A Space Talent Spotlight Series Interview with Dalya Omar, Mission Integration Engineer at Rocket Lab, former Senior Business & Strategy Analyst and Structures Engineer at Virgin Orbit.
What is your background?
Motivated by my excitement for the commercialization of the space industry, I majored in Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University. The privatization of the space industry in the past two decades has ushered in a remarkable and transformative era, fundamentally reshaping the industry and holding the potential to profoundly change humanity. This paradigm shift has not only dismantled barriers to entry, opening doors for smaller players, but it has also fostered an environment of reduced risk aversion. As a result, a more inclusive, vibrant, and flourishing ecosystem has emerged, fueling an insatiable drive for innovation. I wanted to be a part of this evolutionary era.
My time at Syracuse University was nothing short of outstanding. The curriculum provided a highly immersive and practical approach to learning allowing us access to cutting edge facilities and equipment, including subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels. We had a six-axis flight simulator on campus, which was utilized in our flight performance and dynamics class. During my time at Syracuse, I had the honor of serving as the chapter president of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), which provided me with exceptional exposure to the broader industry and allowed me to forge connections with leading professionals. I took advantage of this platform to invite esteemed industry experts to our campus and had the privilege of representing the university at conferences.
In 2017, I interned at what used to be the LauncherOne Program at Virgin Galactic. I was excited to be joining a company whose technology was rooted in the first commercially funded vehicle to successfully reach space. The LauncherOne program spun-off into Virgin Orbit and in 2018, I had the privilege of joining the company as a Structures Engineer. I worked on the design, test and build of the first development vehicle, contributing to its evolution from conceptual design to the first successful launch and subsequent successful launches.
Eager to gain a broader perspective and deepen my understanding of the industry's dynamics, I decided to explore a different part of the company. So a couple of years later, I joined the business and strategy team, aiming to expand my knowledge beyond engineering. This transition allowed me to immerse myself in understanding our customers' needs, the industry market landscape and how Virgin Orbit positioned itself within the market.
Since this interview, Dalya has joined Rocket Lab as a Mission Integration Engineer.
What have been your top career accomplishments so far?
Playing an integral role in contributing to the LauncherOne program from its initial stages of development to its monumental first launch, marking a historic milestone as the first-ever successful launch of a liquid-fueled air-launched vehicle. Being a part of this groundbreaking endeavor instilled in me a deep appreciation for the power of collaboration, dedication, and the limitless potential of the space industry.
What part of your education had the most impact on your career?
I majored in aerospace engineering with the intention of building a robust foundation in understanding the technology driving this transformative industry. I knew that whatever I wanted to do within the space, this degree would provide me with the vital framework for comprehending the multifaceted challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. I've seen this come into play during my time on the business and strategy team at Virgin Orbit where my engineering background provided me with a more holistic view of the industry and equipped me with the ability to navigate the intricate interplay between business strategy and technological advancement.
What important lessons have you learned from being a part of a startup to IPO and ultimately, bankruptcy?
Even a remarkable product cannot guarantee survival without favorable market dynamics. LauncherOne, with its exceptional engineering feats and impressive technological advancement it presented, served as a testament to the capabilities of our team. However, despite its merits, the market landscape was not poised to support our success.
LauncherOne faced an uphill battle against larger rockets that offered more cost-effective alternatives. The production costs associated with rocket manufacturing were considerably high, and as a result, a smaller launcher like LauncherOne faced formidable competition from larger, more affordable rocket options that dominated the market share we targeted. Furthermore, the demand for small launchers was steadily declining as the market dynamics underwent significant shifts.
My experience in both engineering and business development within the same company has taught me the vital importance of aligning organizational efforts to ensure successful product development and navigate the evolving market dynamics effectively. It is crucial that the engineering teams managing the product and the business development teams shaping the company's direction are in sync. By understanding and responding to the evolving needs and preferences of the market, companies can position themselves for long-term success and maintain a competitive edge.
How have these hard lessons changed you and what you’ll bring to your next role?
"Space is Hard" has become a resounding mantra echoed throughout the industry. While it may sound cliché, it holds an undeniable truth. Working at any space startup entails embracing substantial risks. But isn't that the beauty of pursuing a career in an industry that is pushing the bounds of humanity?
The remarkable opportunity to contribute to a field that constantly stretches the limits of what is possible, to be part of a collective effort propelling humanity towards new frontiers – these are the intangible rewards that make the risks worthwhile. So, yes, while the risks may be substantial, they are inherent in an industry where the boundaries of human potential are relentlessly pushed. It is in this pursuit that we discover our collective ability to shape a future that defies the constraints of the present.
Where do you see the most promising career opportunities in the future?
The most promising opportunities in the space industry lie with companies that consider both near-term and long-term applications of their technologies. While visionary projects like asteroid mining may be captivating, a company's survival ultimately depends on offering tangible value in the immediate future. Balancing long-term vision with short-term impact is crucial for sustained success in this evolving industry.
Throughout my job search, I've discovered that actively staying informed about the latest trends in the space industry has been instrumental in my ability to identify organizations that possess a clear and well-defined long-term vision. By keeping up-to-date with industry advancements, I have been able to align my career aspirations with companies that demonstrate sustained success in this dynamic and evolving field. This proactive approach has allowed me to make informed decisions, showcase my knowledge and passion during interviews, and find opportunities that truly resonate with my professional goals.
What advice/resources would you share with the next generation?
Wholeheartedly embrace every opportunity with an unwaveringly open mind. Recognize that the only limits to this boundless industry are defined by the mindset of the individuals shaping it. Therefore, it is crucial to strive to embrace new ideas and perspectives, and maintain an adaptive and expansive mindset.
I embraced that mindset in embarking on my journey at Virgin Orbit. Despite the skepticism that surrounded the feasibility of air-launching a liquid-fueled rocket, I joined a startup that was striving to accomplish what had never been done before. As a result, I had the privilege of being part of a historic milestone in the industry.