Employee Spotlight: Meet Austin Ellis – Launch Manager
What’s your role?
Launch Manager. I decide what launch providers the company works with to put Spire satellites on-orbit and when. I also build and maintain relationships with launch providers for this purpose.
Fun fact: Spire has launched 150+ satellites into orbit through 30+ launch campaigns with 10 different launch providers.
Describe your journey to Spire.
After working at a large aerospace government contractor for nearly five years as a Satellite Operations Engineer, I concluded the slow pace of work didn’t align well with my values. In 2014, a recruiter from Spire (the company was called Nanosatisfi at the time) contacted me about an open role as a Satellite Operations Engineer. Even as an aerospace engineer, the idea to commercialize cubesats was pretty foreign to me at the time, so I had to check it out. When I interviewed with Peter, our CEO, I mentioned that I would happily work as a Satellite Operations Engineer for a few years as long as the company was open to me becoming a Sales Engineer when the customer products became available – an arrangement that came to fruition and (from my perspective) worked out well!
In 2019, I got an itch to work as a Sales Engineer at a non-aerospace company. I gained valuable experience there, but after two years, I realized I just don’t see myself working outside of the aerospace industry. Fortunately, Spire had an opening for their Launch Manager role, and I rejoined the company in June 2021.
A lot has changed since 2014. Back then, Spire had 14 employees all in San Francisco, and we were developing an early version of our satellites. Now we have around 375 employees from over 40 countries, a constellation of 100+ satellites, and a wide variety of customers, products, and launch needs. The journey to get here has been a lot of fun.
What is a project you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
Back in 2014, our satellite contact schedule was published as events on a Google Calendar, but at some point, the integration broke! Without this, satellite operations had to manually look up when contacts were coming up, which is clearly far less than ideal.
The software engineers were neck deep in the development of the LEMUR-1, the first 3U satellite the company built, so, having some limited software experience at the time, I took it as an opportunity to learn Python and create an early “optimized” satellite contact schedule for satellite operations to use. I was able to finish it before the launch of the satellite and it did the job!
Picking up this skill also became essential later on when building out automation in satellite operations as well as improving some automated maritime data deliveries to customers.
What Spire value do you relate to the most?
Collaborative. I’m very attracted to activities and roles that involve contributions from others. The end result doesn’t always work out the way I expected it to, but if you’re lucky, it’s for the better.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
I play alto saxophone in two local concert bands and a small jazz band with friends. I also practice martial arts (Shotokan), snowboard, and I love to cook. I’m addicted to shows like Parts Unknown (RIP Anthony Bourdain), Top Chef, and The Great British Bake Off.
What interests you most about space? Have you always wanted to work in the space industry?
As an aerospace engineer by degree, working in space was always part of the plan. I would like to see the industry make notable progress in establishing permanent manned settlements off of Earth in my lifetime, though I am unlikely to volunteer for such an endeavor myself.