A Space Talent Spotlight Series Interview with Josh Ingersoll, Satellite Regulatory Engineer - Project Kuiper at Amazon, former Matthew Isakowitz Fellow at Airbus-OneWeb Satellites and NASA Research Engineer Intern
What is your background?
I am first and foremost a space geek and an engineer who is happiest operating at the boundary between systems engineering and policy/business strategy. Shortly after completing my BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech and about 2 months into quarantine - and all of the netflix / video games that entailed - I decided to go back to school to broaden my “toolkit”. I am currently a dual MA/MBA student at The George Washington University pursuing degrees in Space Policy and STEM Management under my graduate advisor Dr. Scott Pace. My passion is satellite mega-constellation design, operation, and regulation which is the focus of both my research at GWU as well as my role at Amazon’s Project Kuiper during the day.
What have been your top career accomplishments so far?
Tangibly, being able to work on both CubeSat’s (NASA Ames TechEdSat-7 & TechEdSat-8) as well as OneWeb’s first production batch of satellites during internships I had at Georgia Tech. As many people in the industry will tell you, having hardware in orbit is a feeling like no other. It is a practical validation of the years of theory you work through during school. Seeing data come back from space that was generated by an object you had your hands physically on suddenly makes all of those all-nighters and final exams worth it.
From an international engagement and policy perspective, I’m incredibly proud of presenting at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) last Fall as part of the “Next Generation Plenary”. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on an international panel about the benefits of utilizing public-private partnerships (P3’s) in the aerospace industry to enable capital intensive technology that isn’t quite commercially viable yet. I spoke about the DARPA Blackjack program and its goal to partner with commercial satellite providers like Airbus-OneWeb Satellites to provide low-cost defense capabilities. My presentation that was published alongside the plenary can be seen here while an overview of the plenary itself can be found here.
Personally, my favorite career accomplishment so far has been the handful of phone calls I’ve had with mentees over the years when they get to share their monumental achievements. I actively work with Georgia Tech as a “Mentor in Residence” to help connect with students looking for advice on their next steps and it has been a wonderful experience so far. From fellowship programs to grad school acceptances to internships, being able to share my time and advice with those traveling down similar paths and having their efforts be recognized and celebrated feeds my soul like nothing else. While I receive nothing tangible by volunteering my time like this, it is my goal to utilize the opportunities given to me to lower the barrier of entry into the aerospace industry for those that have been historically underrepresented in our community. I believe that increasing the diversity in our field will lead to stronger leadership teams and less background-based “groupthink”. I am extremely inspired by programs like the Brooke Owens Fellowship and the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship that are doing this work quite well.
What were the critical steps/choices that helped you get ahead?
Reflecting back on all of the decisions and chance happenings that have occurred to me along my path, there are few worth discussing. First was becoming friends with Dawn Andrews and Yash Chandramouli during my undergrad. Dawn and Yash are both inaugural Brooke Owens and Matthew Isakowitz fellows and pushed me to actively apply myself in school instead of just skating by for my degree. More generally, they showed me how to reach out to those that are professionally or academically where I’d like to be and ask for advice. These mentors spent time with me and that inspired me to “pay it forward”.
Secondly, I have found that being open and flexible to whatever the next door that opens is vital and has a “snowball” effect. As an example, I started doing undergraduate research under Dr. Glenn Lightsey at Georgia Tech as part of their BS/MS program requirements. Getting to know Dr. Lightsey put my name at the top of the list for a last-minute internship opportunity at NASA Ames and I started only 2 weeks after I learned about the role. My NASA manager Bruce Yost wrote a great letter of recommendation for my Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship application and then provided a direct verbal recommendation with Aerospace Corporation CEO Steve Isakowitz during the fellowship summit that landed me an interview for my first full-time job after school. Each decision leads to more opportunities, it just requires hard work and to be flexible looking for the next open door.
What part of your education had the most impact on your career?
The first space policy class I took under Dr. Borowitz at Georgia Tech during grad school opened my eyes and interests to new career opportunities. Prior to that class, I didn’t know “space policy” even existed or the important role it plays in the modern space ecosystem. I learned a ton about what else goes into the decision making process for NASA mission selection or VC funding decisions that go beyond what is technically possible. That class opened my eyes to the greater world outside of pure engineering in the industry and I never looked back.
What about your career have you enjoyed the most and least?
It has been absolutely amazing to work directly on satellite mega-constellations. These large mesh networks of satellites will fundamentally change how we connect to the internet and I think they will have a huge positive impact on the world. From spurring competition across the rural United States, to allowing remote communities to access the commercial, social and educational benefits of the internet,, mega-constellations will be our single greatest asset to bring the remaining 41% of the global population into the internet age. Rural schools in Appalachia will have access to educational resources like Coursera, Khan Academy, and even Wikipedia. Working to license and develop regulatory practices for these systems has been a dream of mine and I am grateful to have this opportunity.
On the flip side, I have grappled with the dichotomy of having both a social and professional presence on the internet during the age of social media. Walking the fine line between representing yourself and speaking in what appears to be on the behalf of your employer has been a challenge for me. As more and more people I look up to have both large social media following and successful careers, I hope to hone my skills at traversing this tightrope by learning from them.
Where do you see the most promising career opportunities in the future?
I see a ton of opportunity for those that have an engineering core and then branch out into other areas such as economics, business, law, architecture, or design. Having a solid core of first-principles with a master’s-level knowledge of these auxiliary fields provides a very niche outlook on the industry that can be invaluable to many companies, especially in the burgeoning NewSpace industry.
Outside of that specific niche, the raw number of businesses and jobs in the space ecosystem has grown exponentially over the past decade. Because of this, there are a ton of new opportunities for your work to intersect with space, not just in STEM. Every company needs counsel, accountants, marketing departments, graphic designers etc. The list goes on and on. There is a role for everyone in the space ecosystem, not just engineers and scientists.
What advice/resources would you share with the next generation?
LinkedIn is your friend! If there is a program you’re interested in, reach out to those that have taken part in that program in the past and politely introduce yourself. Taking 15 minutes to chat about the ins and outs of a program or school that might not come through via the application, website, or job board. This simple step can push your application to the next level. Many people that came before you also used these types of strategies and I’d bet that over half of them would be willing to spend time with you, especially if you are a student.
Opening the first door is always going to be the hardest. That first research opportunity or first internship is tough to land. Get to know upperclassmen and your professors, they have been around the block and can truly help!
Recently I’ve really enjoyed the new social audio app “Clubhouse”. There is a large space community there under the “Small Steps and Giant Leaps” club that is full of industry professionals and students. Getting a chance to talk to NASA engineers, NewSpace CEO’s, astronomers and everyone in-between in a social setting has connected a ton of students to lucrative opportunities.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
If you are a STEM student interested in working in the commercial space industry, I highly recommend you check out the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship this Fall. The program matches qualified undergraduate and graduate students with internships, mentorships, and networking opportunities to jump start their career in the industry after school. Applications should open sometime in early September and my socials are always open if prospective applicants have questions!