Let's Space It. Ernst Wehtje

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Let's Space It. Ernst Wehtje

Space is arguably both finite and infinite while the universe is expanding, and this evokes ambition, excitement and puzzlement in humans. Out of which space technology, designed for space exploration, is born. Thus, it is even more interesting to learn the life stories of people behind innovation and technological development.

In this series of articles, we are introducing our colleagues behind ReOrbit technology. What brought them to the industry, their journeys towards humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier, lessons learnt and things they’d create if there were no technological limitations.

Headshot of Ernst Wehtje

Meet Ernst Wehtje, Head of Institutional Sales, who celebrates two years at ReOrbit. To mark his work anniversary, Ernst shares his story how he ended up working in space and at ReOrbit, why you should never give up if your first attempt fails, where he finds inspiration to look up at the stars to this very day and what a balance between space as business and space as fun might look like in the future.

Why did you choose space

Truth to be told, I am one of those who always looked up at the stars and was fascinated by the beauty and mystery of it all up there.  
There is this unique place in the Swedish countryside, where I always spent my summers. There, in its isolation from the city lights, noise and pollution, during starry nights in August, when the view is clear, you can see so much more. And it all peaks with a meteor shower, a rain of falling stars, the Perseids, that coincidently happens around my mother's birthday. Since my early childhood every year – and this year was not an exception – I could see those streams of cosmic debris entering Earth's atmosphere at extremely high speeds. I’m not sure if anyone witnessing that can stay indifferent. Well, I certainly haven’t, and I reckon, experiencing that from an early age influenced and shaped me to a certain extent.

Realising that I am a nature lover, problem solver and some kind of creator, I figured that engineering would be my field of choice to study. And so, I entered the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden to do my bachelor's in engineering.
One day, I found out about a student project aimed at building a mini-satellite that was run by a KTH professor, also a key figure in the Swedish space industry. That’s when the idea of studying space and working with these complex systems entered my mind. I joined the project as a mechanical engineer, which was sort of a compromise, as I wasn’t doing my master's just yet (one of the conditions for project admission). I had a chance to peek into the beauty, complexity and mystery of space and the application of science by technology, and since then, I have never thought of an alternative career path. As a result, I did my master's in aerospace and entered the space industry upon graduation.

Space is the next frontier us humans have; exploring is part of our DNA and culture, one of the keys to our success on Earth. I’m a big-time believer that learning as much as possible about space and building affordable efficient space systems have an immense potential to enhance life here on Earth and of course our future life in space, to whatever extent that might be.

You started your career as

During my master’s at KTH, I got involved with the rocketry association AESIR, basically a group of student space enthusiasts that designs and tests sounding rockets. I ended up running it and we spent all our time in the lab, totally on our own will, trying to balance the demand from the courses.  

Eventually, I got an opportunity to do my master’s thesis at a company in Uppsala who produces the cold gas thrusters for their cubesats. As a mechanical engineer, I was assigned to a practical task concerning their fill and drain system. It was fantastic to be able to design, build and test space components and systems. When I graduated and handed over the student projects, I ended up staying in the same company for a full-time position as a development engineer.  
Later, I decided to apply to ESA’s Young Graduate Trainee programme and was selected (on my second attempt) to gain a valuable experience at the Directorate of Space Transportation in Paris. Even though my time in France coincided with the epidemic outbreak, I really enjoyed the unique opportunity to understand how ESA works and how the European space ecosystem evolves in the big picture.
In October 2021, I joined ReOrbit. So today I’m celebrating two years of an exciting, fun yet at times difficult and challenging experience I’m having here, which allows me to develop my skills, grow and make a difference in the industry alongside our great team.

Your most memorable memory so far

One that comes to my mind right away is from the rocketry association times when we built 2 rockets from scratch, each around 2 m tall with maximum altitude of 1-2 km. The goal was to test propulsion, construction, and recovery, not reaching the Karman line or orbital velocity...
We lost sight and track of the first rocket we launched. So, we came back a year later with an improved rocket. On a crisp winter day, in the fields of snow we managed to launch our second rocket and spot it when it was drifting on its way down about a kilometre away with its parachute open. With the help of a drone, we located the orange thing in the snow and went to pick it up.
It was a highly rewarding notion that a group of students with little funding fuelled by pure enthusiasm managed to achieve that.

Your most valuable lesson so far

There are two things here I’d like to cover. Space is very complex but at the same time very important - even crucial - for our society today and is likely to be even more important for the society of the future. It took me a work-related encounter with space to understand how pivotal it is in our daily lives.  

Second, space is not unreachable, nor is it impossible. People like me interested in phenomena, science and nature, can end up working in space whether on the engineering or business side of it; it is possible, these workplaces exist and need people. In the past I had not realised how possible it could be to contribute to a disruptive space technology company like ReOrbit.

The one thing that makes you smile

I smile big when I’m surprised by innovative breakthroughs and impressive inventions, often around very high-performance things, at the extreme of the possible.  

One example when I couldn’t stop smiling was the maiden flight of Falcon Heavy in 2018. When it went up, its two side boosters separated after being emptied and, equipped with fins and landing legs, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere to touch down safely back near the landing zones. The sheer view of them, two huge constructions flying back in a matter of minutes, tall as a 20-floor building, was truly a smiling moment.

What nobody prepared you for

As an engineer, you get prepared to solve mathematical equations in scientific practice. In fact, you get trained for everything except the important matter of understanding / interacting with humans. Of course, we did project work for some kind of collaboration development back in university, but it is not sufficient. Nevertheless, nearly any type of work is all about people –  understanding them, communicating and collaborating with them.

Here at ReOrbit or anywhere else for that matter, in order to achieve common goals, we need to hear each other, to communicate and to collaborate. I believe soft skills come naturally for me, yet still it’s been a learning curve that nobody prepared me for.

Imagine there are no technological limitations, what do you wish you could design/create in the space sector

Let’s make it clear: if there are no technological limitations, people would still need behavioural boundaries, say, rules or laws, involving moral compass, in place.  
Imagine this is the case and behavioural / moral aspect is taken into consideration, I would create affordable private space planes – purely for civil purposes. I would hope we as humans would be capable of using such jets/rockets appropriately without creating additional space debris, and only for joy. For space travelling. I would even dream of owning one jet myself, parked just outside my house in the garage, to explore our solar system or move quickly here on Earth.
Space is the final frontier, but one can still find frontiers of unchartered territories here on Earth. For me personally, there are still so many great places I’d like to visit and discover.  



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