Meeting Elon Musk with the Matthew Isakowitz Fellows

For the summer of 2019, I interned at XPRIZE as a recipient of the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship. Founded in 2017, the Fellowship has quickly established itself as the best summer fellowship program for those passionate about commercial space exploration. Specifically, it is a program that pairs young entrepreneurially minded space engineers with ground-breaking space companies for a paid internship. It also matches Fellows with leading space industry leaders as mentors. It culminates with a summit that brings the Fellows together in Los Angeles, United States to meet each other, as well as top innovators in the industry. 

Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Summit with Mr. Whitesides and Fellows

In my case, my mentor was Mr. George Whitesides, the CEO of Virgin Galactic. He generously made available time to chat with me over the phone and in person while in Los Angeles. He even invited me to his Virgin Galactic Interns’ party, which he hosted at his house and included managers and directors from Virgin Galactic, the Spaceship Company, and Virgin Orbit. It was an incredible learning experience to ask him questions about the commercial spaceflight industry, as well as ways in which I can apply my own studies to advancing the industry. Because I am studying for my PhD in Electrical Engineering, my questions revolved around the satellite industry.

Meeting Buzz Aldrin at the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship

I also had many informal mentors as well. While at XPRIZE, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Diamandis (Founder of XPRIZE) and Ms. Ansari (CEO OF XPRIZE) about their work for the Foundation, as well as their thoughts on the space industry. Dr. Diamandis spoke to me about Planetary Resources and the radiation environments that his company’s robots would have encountered. This was particularly interesting to me because my research focus at Vanderbilt University is understanding how radiation impacts semiconductor physics for space-based electronics. Ms. Ansari talked to me about the future of satellite servicing in space. Specifically, she envisions a technology where multiple miniature satellites can combine with each other to build larger satellites and/or replace broken satellites.

Introducing myself at the Summit Opening

Near the end of the internship, in July, the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship hosted the three-day summit. It was a fast-paced, intense whirlwind of traveling between commercial space facilities, meeting leaders in the space industry, and debating space-related topics with each other. Some of the places we visited were Boeing Satellite Systems, The Aerospace Corporation, SpaceX, and Virgin Orbit. Each trip brought its own flavor of activities and people to meet. For example, when we visited SpaceX, we toured the rocket facilities in Hawthorne and met with its Founder and CEO Elon Musk, who shared his vision for human exploration and colonization of Mars.

The highlight of the Summit was the space industry dinner, where we got to meet with Buzz Aldrin, Tim Ellis (Founder and CEO of Relativity Space), and John Gedmark (Founder and CEO of Astranis), among many others. The dinner concluded with a tribute to the work that Matthew Isakowitz did to push the commercial space industry forward. 

Overall, I highly recommend this internship to individuals pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in a space-related engineering field.

Posted by Richard Nederlander