The space industry is in the midst of a renaissance. Not since the ‘Space Race’ of the mid-20th Century have we seen so much activity as the world increasingly looks to the stars for answers. We get to know Expleo’s new Global Head of Space, Frédérique Rebout: her background, why she thinks the space industry is unlike any other and if there really are little green men somewhere out there…
Q: Hi Frédérique and welcome to Expleo! Could you tell us a bit about your background and what you did before joining Expleo?
My background is in mechanical engineering – I have an MEng in Mechanics, Research & Development – and like a lot of people in my situation, I found my way to the aerospace and defence sector. I started my career with a US company called MOOG, working out of Germany; it’s at this early stage that I got a taste for a global way of working, with different cultures and approaches. After spending some time developing MOOG’s defence business in France, I had the opportunity to build its growing space business in Europe. Eventually, it was time to move on. I spent some time with Kistler, a sensor technology vendor, managing its Western European team, focusing on the Test industry.
Q: You must have a passion for the space industry; what keeps bringing you back?
The defence and space industries are tightly connected and, in many ways, similar: they tend to move quite slowly but they’re at the very bleeding edge of innovation. But with space, there are no borders. It’s a truly international community where everyone is working towards the common goals of discovery and improvement of humankind. The first space project I worked on was the Ariane 6 rocket – a European Space Agency initiative – where we were working on the vector control for propulsion. I got to see this collaborative, innovation-driven way of working first-hand and that’s what sparked my passion.
Q: If you could name a space shuttle or satellite what would you call it?
That’s a tough question! There are so many options. I asked my children Clémentine and Théophile – both are excited about space travel – and we decided that BLOOM would be a great name. It’s positive, reflects growth and embodies what space exploration should be.
Q: Why is space important – why not focus on terrestrial issues?
It might sound counter-intuitive but by going to space we can learn more about Earth than if we stayed in our atmosphere. Sometimes by taking a step back, you’re able to get a better overall view of something. Space exploration gives us a far deeper understanding of Earth and humankind: where we came from, how things are now and where we’re going too.
Q: Is your interest in space just as an observer? If the first colonisers set off for Mars tomorrow, would you be on that shuttle?
Not on the first shuttle! For me, Mars is a collection of red mountains and I already have access to some more than lovely mountains here in France. However, if there were the chance to visit the International Space Station, I’d definitely be interested – a 3-month holiday in a zero-G hotel sounds like a great experience!
Q: Your long-term future is on Earth with Expleo then? What made you join the company?
The opportunity to focus on the space industry was a big appeal for me. It’s already clear that Expleo is an organisation that gives its people the opportunity to express themselves. I’m looking forward to getting to know my team and empowering them with the tools and freedom to be creative.
Q: What is your vision for Expleo’s space department?
The shape of the space industry is changing. The age of big satellites and centralised projects and state-sponsored agencies as the only players are over. There’s been almost a Big Bang of innovation with lots of start-ups driving the industry forwards, creating new opportunities for alliances and collaboration. NASA and its contemporaries will rely on the likes of SpaceX if we want to continue progress. I want to make Expleo a partner for all those New Space stakeholders and be a part of that journey.
Q: And finally, we have to ask but for many people space means aliens – do you believe there are aliens out there?
I don’t see why not? If you look at the size of the Universe, the Big Bang and where we came from the probability is that there is some form of life out there somewhere. We just need to keep looking for it.