Over the summer, I had the opportunity to complete an internship at The Spaceship Company after being selected into the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program’s inaugural class.
The fellowship is named in memory of Matthew Isakowitz, who was an accomplished young space entrepreneur. It provides top college juniors, seniors, and graduate students who are passionate about commercial space with paid internships at leading companies and mentorship from industry executives. The whole experience was life-changing.
The Spaceship Company (TSC) is located in Mojave, California, and is the sister company to both Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit. TSC is the company that designs, builds, and tests SpaceShipTwo, which is the hybrid-rocket-powered spaceplane that Virgin Galactic will operate to take paying tourists on suborbital trips to space. No doubt this was a dream internship.
At TSC, I worked as an intern in the product assurance group. As one can imagine, product assurance is critical for a company trying to send tourists to space. I was quickly treated as though I was a full-time engineer, not an intern, so I hit the ground running.
Given my embedded systems experience, I was tasked with representing the product assurance group on the team developing a new safety-critical embedded system that will be flown on SpaceShipTwo.
I developed software to allow the system to perform built-in tests on itself during flight, I performed failure mode effects analysis on a vital part of the hardware, and I influenced some of the high-level design of the system through requirements reviews.
I loved my time at TSC. The company is filled with people who genuinely care not only about the mission, but also about each other. This extends all the way up to the pilots and leadership team. There aren’t many places where you work on a spaceship every day, so coming in to work was always easy. Plus, we had a great intern class that made weekends plenty of fun.
While out in California, I was also able to participate in some extraordinary events. Early in the summer, I got to witness VP01-2, the second powered test flight of VSS Unity, which is the SpaceShipTwo vehicle being used to verify the design and reach space for the first time. Richard Branson flew out for the occasion, and I got to meet him on the flight line (see photo at top). The flight went smoothly, and with each new test flight, Unity is incrementally approaching space.
The also took part in the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program summit, which was a three-day get-together in L.A. with all of the fellows and many of the executive mentors.
We were given tours of some of the coolest companies (we saw the third flight of Unity via company-internal livestream while at Virgin Orbit) and we got to hear from and speak with top commercial aerospace executives in the area.
If there was ever a time when I felt like I truly belonged in commercial aerospace, it was at the summit. I’m so excited to see what the next five years bring for the industry, and what it will mean for humanity. I’m extremely optimistic, and I can’t wait to do my part.
Alex St. Clair is a BS/MS student in Electrical and Computer Engineering.