Hooked on astronautics
Teased and discouraged, now Cheyenne Powell is a space engineerSunday, May 30, 2021
BY KASEY WILLIAMS
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — From her teenaged years Cheyenne Powell was fascinated with astronautics to the point of being teased by her peers. Now, the 30-year-old, whose father is Jamaican, stands out in her field as a space engineer.
Powell is pursuing a PhD in artificial intelligence (AI) – involving satellites partly funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) — at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.
She was born in the United Kingdom after her father migrated there. However, when she was two years old he returned to Jamaica with his family, a move that resulted in Powell growing up in Southfield, St Elizabeth.
Recently, she told the Jamaica Observer how her passion for astronautics unfolded.
“There was a show that used to come on television called Explorations, around 1998, and it was about the future of our race in space, and they were talking about planets in space, what technology we could use in space [and] that sparked an interest in me,” she explained.
However, her dream of pursuing astronautics was described by many people, including teachers, as implausible.
“Because not many people knew about this I was laughed at a lot. I was teased a lot. I was told it's too far-fetched. It's not possible. I should think smaller. I was told that by a lot of people, including some of my teachers,” she revealed.
At her alma mater, Hampton School in southern St Elizabeth, Brown loved mathematics and physics.
“I realised that I started to gravitate towards maths a lot, but I wasn't really a fan of English. When I got older, I was introduced to physics, chemistry and biology. I was only good with maths and physics,” she said.
“I taught myself Japanese and I found it to be easier than English,” she added.
At age 15, Powell was enrolled at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville where she pursued an associate degree in engineering.
“I was one of the youngest in my class and I was around people who were in their 20s,” she said.
Two years later, Powell was enrolled at University of Technology, Jamaica where she studied electrical engineering.
Thereafter, she was employed at HTG Engineering Consultants as a junior electrical design engineer. Her resume also lists being employed at the Spectrum Management Authority, an agency of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, as well as brewing giant Red Stripe.
Powell's mind, though, was firmly set on pursuing a master's degree in astronautics and space engineering, and she looked to the UK to accomplish that feat.
“While I was at Red Stripe, I decided to apply to two universities in the UK called Cranfield and Surrey… I got through for both. They were telling me I'm an international student, because I hadn't lived in the country since I was two years old. At that time I was 23,” she said.
“I wasn't sure how I was going to fund that course. It was over £17,000,” she added.
But Powell was determined to achieve her goal and began searching for jobs in the UK to finance her studies.
“I took a risk, took all of my savings and I booked a plane ticket and tried to have at least one month's living expenses. I took a chance to come to the UK. Thankfully, I had an aunt who provided accommodation. For the first three weeks I was here I had an interview every day,” she said.
She later secured a job at Amazon as a controls engineer and managed her time balancing her work and study.
Her love for the Japanese language greatly assisted her next move as she was granted a scholarship to study in Japan.
“In my first year of working with Amazon and attending Cranfield University doing the astronautics and space engineering course, I got a scholarship to go to Japan to do robotics. I got extra holidays to go to Japan to do molecular robotics. I had always wanted to go to Japan,” she said.
Her studies in astronautics and space engineering were vast and near the end of her course she designed a payload for a CubeSat (small cubed satellite) to assist and study the behaviours of biological plants for deep space with the long-term goal to be an add-on for a life support system.
“I had to learn about rockets, how to calculate fuel propulsion for launches, satellites, orbit trajectories, basically everything in regard to space,” said Powell who has since completed her Master of Science in Astronautics and Space Engineering.
“At the end of my master's, I was made redundant, so I applied for a PhD scholarship,” she said.
“This scholarship is with the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. I am in the mechanical and airspace department now, but my project that I am doing for the next three years is expandability of artificial intelligence of onboard spacecraft planning and scheduling of satellites and spacecraft missions.
“Coming on this journey I learnt that no matter where you get your education from, once you are willing to learn, anything can be applied, once you know the theory,” she said.
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