The University of Southampton
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Professor Richard Holdaway, CBE, FREng, DSc

BSc Aeronautics, 1970
PhD Electronic Propulsion for Space, 1974

Richard graduated in the 1970s
Richard Holdaway

I was appointed Director of RAL Space in 1998 and now have 40 wonderful years of experience in space programmes, having worked on numerous missions in Space Science and Earth Observation with NASA, ESA, China, Russia and the UK National Programme.

I started out at the University of Southampton in 1967 as a young freshman on what I thought would be a long career in Aeronautical Engineering. There were around 30 of us on the course and I really enjoyed the lectures and my time with fellow students. The one thing about Southampton that I really loved was that we worked hard but we also played hard. In my third year I took a few options in Space technology, which little did I know at the time would lead on to a 45 degree change in career direction.

On graduating I joined what was then Hawker Siddeley Aviation to work on the Harrier VTOL plane. I saw an advert in one of the daily papers for a PhD at Southampton sponsored by the Mitchell Memorial Trust, with an open invitation to propose any form of research in aircraft or space engineering. That was the turning point in my career as I started my PhD in Electric Propulsion for Space, and never looked back.

Since finishing my PhD in 1974 I have worked continuously on the UK Space programme, working on countless space projects jointly with NASA, ESA, China, Japan, Russia and a host of other countries. At RAL Space we develop advanced technology for space cameras looking down on Earth, instruments for studying the physics and chemistry of the Sun, the search for life on other planets, and to better understand climate change and global warming.

My advice to any student thinking about their career is to figure out what it is you really enjoy doing and then go for it. Be open-minded, have career ambition, and above all be self-motivated. Spending six years at the University of Southampton taught me all those things. Southampton produces many of the very best graduates in the country every year, especially in engineering – I know because I currently have 30 or so working for me here at RAL Space.

My ambition for RAL Space has been for us to be leading the development of the most advanced instruments ever flown in space, and that we are certainly doing. We have well over 200 instruments in space as of today, more than almost anyone else in the world. We have a remarkable track-record of success not just at RAL Space but in the whole UK space sector, and for me that is all because of my training at Southampton back in the 60’s and early 70’s.

To watch a video of Richard talking about his time at the University of Southampton click here.

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