A career in engineering led Zoë Bowden to space!

SSTL’s Assembly, Integration and Test Hall April 2015. Credit: SSTL/Max Alexander

Head of Procurement at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), Zoë Bowden talks to us about her career in engineering and her support for our upcoming Festival of British Engineering & Manufacturing (FOBEM).

Zoë, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up working at SSTL?

Like many people, I left college at 18 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My A Levels weren’t great and I found myself working in retail before getting an Office Junior role, followed by a Buyer / Expeditor role in an Aerospace company. I had grown up spending most weekends traipsing around antique fairs with my Dad, learning the skills of negotiation, critiquing quality and seeing the importance of networking and relationships. The thought of doing all that as an actual job really appealed to me. 

Fast forward to today, and I’m Head of Procurement at SSTL, with overall responsibility for buying the parts and services required to build our payloads that are then launched into space! The UK space industry has trebled in size since 2010 and it’s such an exciting time to be involved, either as an individual or an organisation new to space.

Zoë Bowden

Why engineering?

Engineering teams have been my ‘customer’ throughout my career and I have always applied the core values of ethical procurement, supply chain innovation and performance excellence in order to add value at every stage. Procurement are responsible for ensuring that whatever the engineer needs is sourced ethically, bought at a competitive price, delivered at the right time and performs to the high standard of quality required. The vision, creativity, collaboration and skill in engineering has always inspired me, which is why I welcome the opportunity to champion engineering as a career choice at FOBEM.

What made you want to get involved with M-CNC’s Festival of British Engineering & Manufacturing (FOBEM) event?

At SSTL, we’ve been designing and manufacturing satellites for nearly 40 years, for use in telecommunications, navigation, earth observation, climate change monitoring and security. We’re also going back to the moon! 

With huge growth forecasted over the next 10 years and beyond, the UK space industry is one of the ‘new horizons’ that M-CNC’s FOBEM will inspire a new generation of engineers to want to be a part of. Space needs young skills and expertise!

Why is championing the next generation of engineers so important to you & specifically women in engineering?

I have worked with some very talented women, especially during my time at SSTL, who have held roles ranging from PCB Designers, in-orbit satellite operatives, Systems Engineers, AIT Engineers and Digital Design Engineers and so many more. Engineering careers are out there waiting for everyone and they are fulfilling, inspiring, and the skills you’ll gain are in demand in many different industries across the UK and internationally. 

ELSA-d Target satellite during final assembly at SSTL. Credit SSTL/Kathryn Graham

Can you share a nugget of advice for anyone wanting pursuing a career in engineering? 

If you’re interested in a career in engineering and manufacturing, but aren’t sure what to study or how to get in to it, don’t wait for someone to find out for you! Be assertive, get involved, go to careers events like FOBEM and ask your questions. Just get in there!

How do you see the future of engineering?

I’m excited about the UK Government’s ‘National Space Strategy’. Published in September 2021 it sets out the goals to grow and level up our space economy (as part of the wider ‘Levelling Up’ agenda), and to promote the values of Global Britain. The global space economy is projected to grow to an estimated £490 billion by 2030 and the UK’s next generation of engineers and manufacturers will be at the very heart of one of the most innovative and attractive space economies in the world.

Lunar Pathfinder Spacecraft in orbit. Credit SSTL 2021

Thank you for sharing your story Zoë: it’s a really insightful and inspirational read for anyone interested in a career in engineering and the opportunities in the space industry.

Experience the space industry first hand at our Festival of British Engineering & Manufacturing on the 6 & 7 July 2022. Click the button below to find out how you can get involved.

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