Mishaal Ashemimry is a Saudi-American Aerospace Engineer, Aerospace Entrepreneur, speaker, and influencer, who was born in the US and spent a few years of her early life in Saudi, where her fascination with space started. More specifically, she was inspired at the age of six while gazing at the stars in the Unayzah desert. To feed her curiosity, she decided to learn how to build space vehicles that will enable her to explore space and one day take her there.
As the first female aerospace engineer in the GCC, she realised that this title comes with an enormous responsibility to inspire others to join her field as well as other STEM programs. To reach the youth, she used social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube to educate her follower about her field, experiences, and to inspire them to have a dream and perseverance to pursue it. As a result, she became a public figure and speaker at many events in the GCC and globally.
Currently, Ashemimry is a consultant in her field. Moreover, she is living her passion every day by educating and inspiring others through conferences, webinars, and her social media channels. In 2010, while based in Miami, Florida, she founded MISHAAL Aerospace at age 26, to pursue her ultimate dream of building rockets. Her company’s objective was to design and build their own rockets to launch small satellites (500 kg) or less to Low Earth Orbit. Previously, she worked for Raytheon Missile Systems’ Aerodynamics Department and contributed to twenty-two different rocket programs. Her professional experience and areas of expertise include aerodynamics, wind tunnel testing, vehicle design, predictive simulation and analysis and rocket stage-separation analysis, with a strong focus on computational tool development.
She earned a Master of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, and two Bachelor of Science Degrees in Aerospace Engineering and in Applied Mathematics, also from Florida Institute of Technology. Her academic focus included: experimental and analytical aerodynamics, rocket design and nuclear thermal propulsion.
Hey Mishaal, Congratulations on being the very first female aerospace engineer in the GCC, can you take us through your journey as to how you arrived at where you are now?
Ever since I was six years old I was fascinated with space. I was inspired while gazing at the stars in the Unayzah desert in Saudi Arabia. To feed my curiosity, I decided to learn how to build space vehicles that will enable me to explore space and one day take me there. As such, I was always scientifically inclined and conducted several experiments on my own at home. While in high school, I joined the robotics team to compete in “FIRST Robotics Competition” in the US twice and we won 1st place in our division out of eighty teams and 3rd on the nation out of 300 teams. I also was the team leader in Battlebots which is another robotics competition that used to air on comedy central.
By way of background, I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Florida Institute of Technology with two Bachelor of Science degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Applied Mathematics on May 05, 2006 and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering on December 15, 2007. Following my graduation, I worked for Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ for two years. After that, I decided to start my own aerospace company in the US with the focus of developing rockets to send small satellites (≤ 500 kg) to Low Earth Orbit using rockets completely manufactured in-house.
As a graduate research assistant, I worked on a NASA Marshall Space Flight Center project on nuclear thermal propulsion. I analywed and designed a new thermal nuclear rocket engine for Mars Missions for NASA. I analyzed and modeled the thermo-fluid behavior inside the nuclear core of the 1960s NERVA-Type reactors to better understand the issue of large wall thermal gradients and to benchmark codes to design our new nuclear thermal rocket engine. The objective of my work was to design a nuclear thermal rocket that minimizes or eliminates the thermal issues experienced by the 1960s NERVA-Type reactors. This new design was called the Grooved-Ring reactor. My research involved analyzing, modeling, optimizing and redesigning the grooved-ring reactor to minimize or eliminate thermal wall gradients and enhance rocket performance. The research was successful and I published a conference paper in July 2007 at the 43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit.
Following my Master’s Degree, I worked as a Systems Engineer in the Aerodynamics Department at Raytheon Missile Systems. While working there, I participated in four different wind tunnel tests as a Data Analyst and Test Engineer and worked on 22 different rocket programs. As the Data analyst, I wrote several codes to post-process wind tunnel data and analyse it in a fast-paced environment. As a Test Engineer, I was responsible for optimising the runmatrix execution at the wind tunnel test, testing the desired configurations, ensuring the model was assembled correctly and safely on the sting, and confirm that the wind tunnel facility provides accurate data. Working in a high-stress ever-changing environment, such as that in a wind tunnel test, it was important for me to respond quickly and think on my feet to minimise cost and ensure schedule. In some cases, where the run matrix is dynamic, I was able to optimize the chronology of the model changes quickly to minimise model change time. In addition to wind tunnel testing, I developed several aerodynamic models for 3- and 6-degree-of-freedom trajectory simulation. I also analysed the effects of model changes on the overall vehicle aerodynamics and conducted separation analysis for multi-stage rockets. Most of the programs I worked on were on a tight schedule requiring hard work and timely delivery of assigned tasks.
I then started Mishaal Aerospace, a small satellite launch vehicle provider. We design and build our own rockets to put small satellites (500 kg) or less to Low Earth Orbit. The M-Rocket series is the first generation of cost-effective space access vehicles. Developed to serve the broad applications of space payloads (satellites) for clients from government, research, commercial aerospace and telecommunication industries. Our objective is to provide small satellites with a cost-effective, frequent and dedicated access to space. Currently, the small satellite market does not have a dedicated rocket; hence, they are forced to fly as secondary payloads on large rockets without any control of where or when they launch. To highlight some of our successes at Mishaal Aerospace:
- Successfully passing Hydro-proof testing of the M-SV combustion chamber
- Successfully completing our first static test of the M-SV hybrid rocket propulsion system
- Receiving Letters of Intent to launch future Smallsats for several clients
- Meeting with several key potential investors
To enable you to pursue your ultimate dream of building rockets, at 26 you founded the company MISHAAL Aerospace. What were the first few steps to setting up MISHAAL Aerospace?
We analysed the market and observed a clear gap for the launch of smallsats. We also looked into the growth of the market and realized this is a market that needs a dedicated rocket to give them direct access to space on their terms. From there we began our design of the M-rocket line with the goal of providing the smallsat market with a dedicated and cost-effective rocket with frequent access to space.
Who are the team behind MISHAAL Aerospace?
We were a team of 12 people with 10 people working directly for Mishaal Aerospace and two external advisors. As the founder/president/ & CEO I wore many hats including management, finance, engineering, project management down to day-to-day decision making. I also relied heavily on my Chief Engine=er for the rocket architecture and management of engineering related tasks.
How are you planning to expand MISHAAL Aerospace?
Following our successful static test, Mishaal Aerospace has been put on hold. This is because I have been looking for investors for 2.5 years without success.
Can you tell us what areas you have struggled in professionally as the first female aerospace engineer in the GCC?
My struggles are unrelated to the title in the question above, however; they are certainly a byproduct of my field. Keep in mind most of my career has been based in the US and not in the GCC. There are several areas of struggle, namely the emotional struggle, the technical struggle and financial struggle.
Given that my field is very technical it required me to live away from my family practically all my life. To ensure I had a chance in my field, I had to focus on school very early and make sacrifices even during high school. To prepare for college I went to a college prep school to do so I had to sacrifice being close to my mother and closest sister, Sara. This was emotionally toll taking, however; it had to be done to prepare me for college and for the field I wanted. In addition, following college, I had to continue to be away from my family and move to a state unfamiliar to me to work in the industry. After that, the emotional struggle to have to put my company on hold after all the sacrifices and hard work due to lack of funding.
Aerospace Engineering and engineering as a whole is a male-dominated field. While working for the industry I felt that as a woman I must work three to four times as hard to get recognized for the same work a male would perform.
However, starting your own business, you become in control of your achievements regardless of society’s reservation or whatnot. However, as women business owners, we do get recognised by the community once one achieves a particular goal and become in the spotlight faster.
The Aerospace job market in 2010 was slowing down and many companies were laying off rather than hiring. So when I left Raytheon it was difficult to find other jobs in the market. As a result, I was faced with either moping around and waiting for a job opening at some aerospace company opens, or start my own. I was faced with either leading or following; I chose to lead. Consequently, I created my own opportunity to start my own company. Naturally, I had some help, I am fortunate to have a strong support from my family and friends.
Many people may think this move is too high of a risk, especially in the field of Aerospace. It is true, it is a very high risk. However; it is better to have tried and failed than not have tried at all. Of course, trying and succeeding is the goal.
With the technical Struggle, this is the type of struggle I like as it enables me to learn and fix technical issues. Here are some technical struggles I faced while at my rocket company, Mishaal Aerospace:
1. Fuel mixer, keeping a vacuum while mixing, now solved
2. Combustion Chamber, that failed 3 times at Hydrotest which have been Solved
3. Valve replaced at static test also solved
4.Oxidiser tank getting to the desired pressure at the static test finally solved
Most of these struggles were occurring during a financial struggle to find more investors for Mishaal aerospace and they happened at critical times as we were running out of time and money. Then the financial Struggle: As it relates to my company Mishaal Aerospace that faced the type of difficulty I like:
1. Investor financial issues surfaced at crunch time.
2. Search for investors, two and a half years Aerospace is not an easy field to attract investors.
3. For those that appreciate it, they already invested in other rocket companies
4.Too risky for the average type of investor.
Have you ever had a mentor? If so how has this benefitted you to grow?
I don’t believe I ever had an official mentor, however; I was fortunate to have many people advise me and guide me.
Which top 3 methods are you using to build your own network?
1. Speaking at public events and conferences.
2. Attending conferences and networking events.
3. Growing my network through contacts within my network.
What would you like to see changed in within the STEM industry?
The most obvious would be to see more women in the industry. Also more investors and an increased investor appetite for high risk and disruption. Government support to high achievers in the industry. Finally, financial advisors to support STEM industry especially for a business that is pre-revenue.
What is the best piece of advice you have received to date?
You must try hard enough not to regret it and if it is meant to be it will be if not no matter how hard you try, it won’t. Your mission is to try the hardest and let the rest to the universe
What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned in your career so far?
The path is hard and full of obstacles and 1 must really love my field to have the strength to recurrently fall and get back up again to try. My father was right, hardship definitely builds character.
Indeed, so how do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
It is very hard to balance if you are a workaholic, however; eventually one will succumb to the idea that they need some time for themselves at one point. For me, after some struggle, I identified that to balance my hard work I have to make time for exercise to maintain my physical health and make time to be with family to maintain my mental health. In the end without physical and mental health you are no good for your hard work, therefore, you are forced to maintain these three aspects: work hard, exercise regularly, enjoy time with family and friends.
The most rewarding moment in your personal life?
Successful static test of our hybrid rocket.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
Achieving technical feats and challenges and the hope to advance science and technology. Inspiring the youth.
Which other leading entrepreneurs and leading female pioneers do you also admire and why?
Elon Musk! I admire his risk-taking, an undying willingness to disrupt the industry, and the failures he endured to achieve disruption.
How would you say you are intending to use your voice to educate others in aerospace?
As the first female aerospace engineer in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), I realized that this title comes with an enormous responsibility to inspire others to join my field as well as other STEM programs. To reach the youth, I used social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube to educate my follower about my field, experiences, and to inspire them to have a dream and perseverance to pursue it.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I am currently re-reading ‘A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to the Black Hole’ by Stephen Hawking updated edition. Other recent books include ‘Hidden Figures’ by Margot Lee Shetterly, ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell and ‘Playing With Fire’ by Tess Gerritsen this one by far I couldn’t put down and had to finish in 48 hours.
What does your Podcast playlist look like?
Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Revisionist History’, ‘Radiolab’, ‘TED Radio Hour’, ‘How I Built This’, ‘This American Life’, ‘Hidden Brain’ and ‘S-Town.’
How do you measure your terms of success?
I believe success is linked to ambition and failure. Ambition provides the drive to achieve goals and dreams, and failure is the seed from which success grows.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
Be authentic to yourself and be who you want to be no matter what the world expects
Lastly, what is next for you throughout 2018?
Take time off for myself to work on several hobbies and find new opportunities that challenge me and perhaps take me outside my comfort zone.