Joshua Bernard-Cooper (Class of 2017), recently gave a talk to the Physics Society, sharing insights into his fascinating career as a Satellite Flight Dynamics Engineer at Eutelsat OneWeb. 

Joshua revealed that although he had planned on pursuing humanities at A Level, a decisive shift towards Physics and Mathematics marked the moment when he set his sights on the space industry. 

In his current role, Joshua is involved in the intricate task of flying satellites, which includes determining and predicting satellite trajectories as well as preparing orbital manoeuvres. After rockets send these satellites into space, it’s Joshua’s responsibility to ensure they climb a further 600km to a precise point from which they can begin their life providing internet access. From his position on the ground, he takes charge of operating these critical pieces of technology. 

During the presentation to our keen Physics Society members, Joshua delved into the specifics of the orbital motion that satellites experience, emphasising the constant and often unintuitive directional changes they undergo to raise their orbit and avoid space debris. Providing a relatable analogy, he likened the size of these satellites to that of a standard washing machine. To further illustrate the reality of satellite manoeuvres, Joshua enlisted the help of a Lower Sixth student, Semiloore, for a demonstration which compared the thrust of the satellites’ ion engines to the weight of a piece of A5 paper. 

It was wonderful to hear about Joshua’s successful career so far, and to inspire current students about the possibilities of working in Physics and the captivating world of space exploration. 

Matthew, a Lower Sixth student, thoroughly enjoyed Joshua’s talk, and shared his excitement, offering positive feedback on Joshua’s presentation: 

“I really enjoyed the talk today. One of the main reasons I’m interested in applying for Physics is that you can go in-depth into quite nuanced and interesting topics, be it cosmology or quantum mechanics, whilst also improving your problem-solving skills. 

“One of the most interesting features of Joshua’s role as a Flight Dynamics Engineer was the fact that he uses mathematical models to predict whether a satellite has a high chance of colliding with debris or other satellites. Furthermore, what Joshua also discussed was how if you wanted to make the satellite orbit with a larger radius about the earth, you need to give the satellite thrust in order to cause satellite to orbit in an elliptical path and then to make the satellite orbit in a circular path (with a larger radius), you need to give the satellite more thrust. Then by using the equations for the energy of the satellite you can work out the velocity that the satellite must reach to orbit in a circular path with a larger radius. 

“Another thing that I learned is that although you may expect the probability of collision to be very low, due to the number satellites and other space debris, the chance of collision is quite high and therefore monitoring the orbit of other satellites is very important.” 

Many thanks to Joshua for sharing his fascinating experience with our Physics students. 

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