Photo credit: Francesca van Marion
“I don’t see myself sitting at a desk and working on engineering problems.” (Photo: Francesca van Marion)

Overseeing the design of a new rocket engine and getting engineers to communicate better. That’s all part of Francesca van Marion’s job as Team Manager for Project Sparrow.

“I just finished a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in July. This year I am working in a Dream Team with Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering (DARE). I am the team manager of Project Sparrow which is the new full-time team for this year. There’s no time to study while you’re doing it but you do get a lot of experience.

This year we’re building a liquid fuelled rocket engine which will be thrust vector controllable. This means that you can move it while you’re firing it. We’re designing and building a test version, which will be tested this year, and it will be setting the foundation for the next big rocket. The hope is that this engine can fly on future rockets. But with the pandemic it would not have been feasible to build an entire rocket within a year. So, we’re starting with the hardest part, the engine.

I’m currently leading a team of 40 people. We have 17 full-time members and the rest are part-time people who are also studying at the same time. As much as I am an engineer and like technical stuff, I also like people and working with people. I see that engineers typically don’t communicate well with each other. They do, they try but it’s hard and communication is one of the most challenging things. The reason I like what I do right now is because I get to make the link between the technical, designing an engine, while also keeping the team together and helping people work together. I quite like leadership in that sense.

‘We have 21 different nationalities amongst the 40 people’

Through this project, I’m learning that communication is really hard. I’m learning that when I say something to someone, they probably won’t receive it the way I meant to say it. And the team is so diverse. I think we have 21 different nationalities amongst the 40 people. I’ve learned that I would never be able to go back to working with a team that’s not diverse. Having that kind of diversity is really important. It makes things harder and more challenging but you get way better results.

One of the other things I have learned is the importance of listening to people and taking into account what they think. You can’t satisfy everybody all of the time, but at least listening to them and taking them into consideration is a very big lesson I’ve learned.

I’m in the process of thinking about what I’m going to do after this project. I’m 90% sure that I want to do the Space Flight master’s because I want to continue getting a really good background in engineering before going to work. But I’m also thinking about doing a double master’s and maybe combining that with some kind of people-related study. Maybe something to do with cultures or leadership or psychology. I don’t know if it’s possible so we’ll see.

I don’t see myself sitting at a desk and working on engineering problems. I find it interesting, but I’m not the one to get into the nitty gritty details. I’m the one to look at how everything fits together, to look at the big picture. So, I see myself hopefully leading teams in the future, wherever that may take me.”

Who are the people who work and study on campus? We meet them in Humans of TU Delft. Want to be featured in this series? Or do you know someone with a good story to tell? Send us an e-mail at