Vijay Shah

Placement student, Alumnus

First and foremost, I was looking for a university that would offer me a first-class education in aeronautical engineering. Loughborough has a long history in this field and amazing facilities. When I joined, Loughborough’s links with industry meant they had a prototype to the Eurofighter Typhoon sitting in the foyer which was inspirational. Through Loughborough, I attended a space science course in Arctic Sweden, an aviation tour in Taiwan and was sponsored to attend the International Astronautical Congress in Japan.

But going to university isn’t just an academic choice and Loughborough gave me the impression of a place that met my own ethos: work hard, play hard. I was not only looking at a great engineering university but a place that I could discover new things, try new sports and activities. Loughborough’s unrivalled sports facilities and numerous clubs and societies proved to be too good to miss.

In my first year at university, I joined five clubs but quickly learnt that with 35 hours of lectures a week I could only find time for three of them. Both the mountaineering and breakdancing clubs took me out of my comfort zone, one of which led me 3000ft up into the mountains and the other performing in front of 3,000 people in the Students' Union! I became the training secretary of the mountaineering club and President of the breakdancing club in the latter years of my studies.

University is such an amazing opportunity to try new things - the clubs I joined allowed me to try things I would’ve never done otherwise and to develop myself in different ways to my academic studies. I got to meet some amazing people and go on some incredible adventures. One weekend I could be ice climbing in Scottish mountains and the next, battling against another university crew in front of thousands. It is important to realise that soft skills are equally as important as academic qualifications and sports and societies are the best way to develop these.

Between my second and third year I completed a placement year which I spent at Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge. University can be a bit of a bubble so being at an actual engineering company, I had my first real taste of what life as an engineer would be like. I used the money that I earned to attend a six-week mountain leadership training expedition in Iceland. Having that year off also gave me a break and a chance to reflect and organise myself - from being on a 2:2 average at the end of my second year I managed to graduate with a first class with honours.

Be prepared to work hard. Aeronautical Engineering is an incredibly demanding subject to study, but that’s also one of its greatest attractions - you choose it to challenge yourself. It will test you in more ways than you can imagine, but if you work hard and use the support services on offer, you can succeed and the cliché stands, ‘the sky is not the limit’!

Vijay Shah

I first heard about the BBC 2 Astronauts programme on an advert on Twitter and decided I wanted to compete. When the last actual ESA Astronaut Selection was almost a decade ago it seemed like an opportunity too good to miss.

Even the selection process for the programme was challenging - there was an application process that required our CV followed by several rounds of telephone/Skype interviews before a final sixty applicants were invited to Broadcasting House in London for a selection day. The selection day consisted of a group teamwork activity, fitness test and face-to-face interviews. This was cut down further before a final selection day consisting of another interview, a medical examination and a psychological evaluation. The final twelve of us were only told that we were selected two weeks before the start of filming.

Taking part in Astronauts has been one of the most incredible yet challenging experiences of my life. All the filming was packed into an intense three-week period where we were kept completely isolated from the outside world. On top of that we had no idea where we were going from one day to the next and at some points were blindfolded! When we got to these locations we’d have to wait, sometimes for hours, for our one and only opportunity to prove we could do whatever challenge they had planned for us - we wouldn’t know the details of right until the last moment.

Vijay talking to friends

I currently work for a small aerospace propulsion company called Reaction Engines Ltd. For 30 years they have been working on designs for a novel single stage to orbit spaceplane, called Skylon.

Right now we are concentrating on the propulsion system to make this happen, a Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (or SABRE). The critical technology of the engine is a high efficiency heat exchanger or precooler that can cool the incoming 1,000C (Mach 5) air to cryogenic temperatures (-150C) within a fraction of a second before entering the engine. We are currently gearing up for a full demonstration of this heat exchanger technology in the USA early 2018.

Vijay graduated from Loughborough University in 2006.

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