On April 5, 2023, IGNITE Students from Rainier Beach High School had the chance to participate in an IGNITE Workshop to learn from the founder and several employees of Starfish Space, a Seattle-based space company focused on orbital debris removal and satellite life extension services. Ari Juster, Starfish’s Strategy & Operations Lead, kicked the event off with an overview of Starfish and a short video that showcased Starfish’s demo mission that will be launching this June. Ari was joined by Austin Link, Starfish’s Co-Founder, as well as Annika Salmi, Augie Collins, and Rachel Harris, who are all engineers at Starfish.
Annika, Ari, Austin, and Rachel then led the students in an interactive activity to simulate the guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) software used by satellites in order to dock with another object. The students worked in teams, with one team member writing down commands on the whiteboard for another student to use to guide a third blindfolded team member. The goal was to slowly maneuver the blindfolded team member to the correct place on the whiteboard, where they would place a satellite magnet and “dock” with another satellite. This was meant to demonstrate how multiple systems work together on the satellite to dock successfully. Extra rules were added as the activity went on, such as only allowing the students to write commands using pictures instead of words; even then, the students still excelled!
For the panel portion of the event, Annika, Austin, and Rachel shared their STEM career stories and a little bit about what led them to where they are today:
Annika Salmi, Engineer at Starfish Space, felt compelled to be a panelist for IGNITE because she wished she had more women peers and role models in STEM growing up to guide her through the career process. She credited learning about Venus being hotter than Mercury when she was six years old as an event that inspired her to pursue an Astronomy/Physics dual degree at Yale.
Austin Link, Co-Founder of Starfish Space, became interested in a career in space through an astronomy class that he was able to take in college. He talked about the process of starting your own company, and how career paths are often not as linear as you think that they will be.
Rachel Harris, Engineer at Starfish Space, talked about seeing the Curiosity Rover on Mars as a child and becoming interested in space. She joined the robotics club in high school and got very interested in engineering, ultimately deciding to pursue a mechanical engineering degree in college. She stressed the benefits of stepping outside of your comfort zone and not being afraid to mold your education to what suits your learning style best.
During the Q&A part of the IGNITE Panel, students had lots of questions about how small businesses make money when they first start, and about how a satellite company operates specifically. Austin talked about how small companies are able to raise funds through venture capital firms, and all of the different teams at Starfish that make the work they do possible.
Students asked very insightful questions, such as:
- How are satellites able to stay in orbit?
- Why do satellites need to be moved in the first place?
- Why do satellites burn up in the atmosphere?
- How much do satellites cost?
Annika, Austin, and Rachel took turns talking about orbital mechanics, atmospheric drag, and the state of orbital space debris to answer all the students’ questions.
Thank you to Annika Salmi, Ari Juster, Austin Link, Augie Collins, and Rachel Harris from Starfish Space for sharing their time and experience with the students at Rainier Beach High School! Special thanks to both Geoff Bolan at Rainier Beach High School and Caitlin Duke from IGNITE Worldwide for organizing the event as well.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“Today inspired me to be more hopeful about life and to not be stressed by the fact that things don’t always go to plan. Thank you for explaining that life isn’t linear and that there are many paths on this journey.” – 10th grade
“I really enjoyed this event. It was cool to see all the things that go into designing, building, and launching a satellite. I also liked hearing about how the volunteers got to where they are today, and I noticed we had some similar sparks of interest. I learned that it takes a lot to launch something into space and many different types of people are needed to make it happen. I feel like I am more determined to pursue a STEM career after today’s event, so thank you Starfish Space. I also learned that there technically isn’t a law about space piracy!” – 9th grade
“I loved this event. It made me fall in love with space again. It showed me I can become a scientist and study space.” – 10th grade
“This event was inspirational and I found it really fun to just take a look into the things that go on behind my gps and other devices. I also learned that Starfish is like a towing company, but in space, with satellites.” – 10th grade
“I learned about space and space piracy! I’m a lot more interested in STEM now. I thought it was useful to hear that it’s not just smart math people that can do this.” – 10th grade
“Space piracy was so interesting; I learned so much!” – 10th grade
“This event got me interested in astronomy after hearing from the volunteers, and I will maybe study that field. Thank you for explaining everything to the class.” – 10th grade
“I want to be a space pirate now! I learned there are all sorts of jobs in space. No pirates yet, but maybe I will be the first.” – 10th grade
“I think this experience made me feel more interested in STEM and taught me that there’s many different parts to STEM. I learned that there’s trash in space and that pursuing STEM is broad, so there’s many things you can do in it.” – 10th grade