Discuss your career path since graduating from ERAU.
I took a somewhat unusual path, in that I started to take on professional roles before I even left ERAU. After I graduated in 1999 with the Aerospace Engineering degree, I was awarded the ERAU Presidential Fellowship (along with Kyle Gill) to pursue graduate studies over two years while working full time for the ERAU President, Dr. George Ebbs. As part of my role, I helped create the first University-wide strategic planning and budgeting process.
After I graduated with the MBA in 2001, I helped lead the Space Frontier Foundation and ProSpace America, two organizations focused on changing the law and the culture to open outer space to commercial and personal enterprise. These organizations were critical in changing the law, and in laying the groundwork for companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and NanoRacks to form and succeed.
My interest in politics goes beyond policy, and I then moved to the campaign side for a few years. I raised funds for a number of local, state and federal elections. Then, in 2009, I started working for a Senior Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, handling his Science, Space, and Technology Committee portfolio, as well as aviation policy. I worked in the House, for this Member, then for the Science Committee, for ten years. The work there is very much behind the scenes, but the impacts can be huge across industries and agencies.
Then I ran into an old friend at a conference, a serial space entrepreneur I met while still a student at ERAU. He was looking for someone to head up Government Affairs for his new company. I was hired two weeks later at Lynk.
Can you tell us more about Lynk and your current role as Vice President of Government Affairs?
Lynk is a small satellite telecommunications company. Our intention is to build a constellation of 6U satellites (about the size of a shoebox) in low Earth orbit to provide global connectivity to the cell phone in your pocket. We are currently partnering with NASA to test out our technology in space. I’ve been at the company since July, and in that time we have launched two test satellites, and will launch our third on March 1. We have an extremely rapid turnaround time on these tests, which enables us to build in what we need and improve upon what we’ve learned.
My role, as VP of Government Affairs is to talk with the government on behalf of the company. We need approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to transmit any signals from our satellites in the U.S. We also need approval from any country around the world we want to test or operate in. Our test program involves more than a dozen countries, all with their own regulatory laws, approvals, and processes. I manage those relationships and oversee the process of getting our approvals. I also represent us in front of U.S. Congressional offices and committees (I’ve briefed ~25 of them in the past month), and federal agencies. I also oversee this activity for other governments.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
I hope I haven’t achieved it yet. The thing I’m most proud of so far is laying the groundwork for the commercial and personal spaceflight revolution that is taking place. There’s a quote from Robert A. Heinlein, “Once you get to earth orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system.” Getting to earth orbit is an incredibly hard technical challenge, but the technical side hasn’t been the limiting factor. Politics, regulations, and the business case have all been harder to overcome. Over the past twenty years, I’ve managed to play a part in changing that.
What advice do you have for students graduating?
Say YES to things. Try things. Do things. Take advantage of opportunities that are in front of you. You never know where something is going to lead. I have used my strategic planning experience in every job I’ve had since. Things I learned while fundraising have helped me build nonprofits to help the families of children with cancer. And the relationships I formed while volunteering as a student at ERAU led directly to my current job. Most of our engineers are fresh out of school, and instead of joining a large, stable corporation, they said YES to a small start-up company that will need to raise more money to stay in business past the end of the year. They spend every day actually designing, building, and flying satellites. Say YES.