To celebrate this year’s Space Week, which celebrates Women in Space, Plymouth Science Park is shining a light on “women who are out of this world”, by talking to inspirational women working in the sector across the South West.
In the fourth interview of the series, Fay Davies, Business Development Manager at Plymouth Science Park sat down with Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall. Here’s what she had to say:
Can you tell us a bit about who you are and your role?
My name is Melissa Thorpe and I’m the Head of Spaceport Cornwall. I lead the project, based in Newquay, along with my team, as we get ready to launch the first UK satellite next year. We work with Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency, Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station, and many more organisations.
Although I spend most of my time here in Newquay, managing operations and our new facilities, I also get to spend a lot of time travelling to visit clients in London and the US, which is a nice bonus to the job!
How did you get into this line of work?
Not in the traditional way! I grew up in rural Canada, and always loved looking up at the stars. Although I had a dream of being involved with space, there weren’t many opportunities where I lived. I enjoyed economics, and moved to London to attend the London School of Economics for my masters, which included studying aerospace economics.
When I graduated in 2014, Cornwall Council had just bought the airport. I made the move to Cornwall and joined the project, looking at new technologies and economic development for the airport – I’ve been part of Spaceport Cornwall since the beginning.
What impact is your work at Spaceport Cornwall having?
The impact is huge. Until recently it’s been under the radar while we’ve been establishing the foundations, funding, and infrastructure to get the project off the ground. Now we’re seeing the fruits of our labour – we’re recruiting 150 people as we grow.
My passion is using space to benefit life on Earth. Spaceport Cornwall is a centre for new technologies, academia, and SMEs to collaborate on research and development to tackle some of the greatest challenges we face.
Our team wakes up every day to inspire the next generation into STEM, especially girls. We have a full outreach programme running alongside our project, helping to encourage and support young people into the sector.
How can we encourage more women to work in space?
We need to be putting women who are working in space in front of women and girls to showcase their career journey to them. I was with colleagues from Virgin in California today, who happened to be three other women. We were speaking at a school, and the impact of seeing four women talking about their work in the space sector was huge. All the girls were asking questions and wanting to find out more.
It’s not there yet, but it’s changing. We need to show that there are women out there doing these amazing jobs – and that they can too. As you can tell from my own journey, you don’t have to just be science focussed. The industry needs people coming from a creative background, a social science background – there’s a huge variety of skills needed. So it’s important we tell women these stories, and show them that people with similar backgrounds are working in space.
What words of advice would you give to women interested in working in the space sector?
Take what you’re passionate about and apply it to space. It’s all about having that initial passion and a purpose to drive you in your career. We’re a very purpose-driven team, and we’re driven by a passion to open up the sector, and benefit others – and the world.
Head over to our YouTube to watch our video interview with Melissa: https://youtu.be/XAb-r_Hie8k