Michael Eiche started his studies at the faculty of Aerospace Engineering in the year 2009, the same year he joined the Dream team Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering (DARE). His enthusiasm for rocketry and his will to go the extra mile to manage a team eventually led to the position of President of DARE in the academic year 2011-2012 and the position of Treasurer at the D.S.F.V. Blue Falcons his Unihockey sports club in that same period. Currently he is following the Aerodynamic Masters Track, whilst also being the project technical manager of Stratos II, the main and most -prestigious project of DARE. The goal of Stratos II is to develop, test and launch a rocket to 50km, thereby scattering the previous amateur altitude record (12.5km) set by DARE in 2009. Managing such a team takes a devoted and professional student. In this article Michael will be asked a couple of questions regarding his position within the Stratos II team and how he dealt with various situations. Enjoy.
- What set you apart from other DARE members to be assigned project technical manager of Stratos II?
Generally because I like to combine both the technical and management side of a project, which is something most engineers are not so interested in. For me it seemed as a great new exciting challenge to further broaden my horizon, as leading such a team would require much more discipline and professionalism than any other project I ever dealt with. My interest for the management side sparked in my second year, and I guess because of my two board functions for DARE and D.S.F.V. Blue Falcons in 2011/2012 made me capable of dealing with stress whilst maintaining a clear overview of both separate functions. This combination (large amount of motivation and experience) is what I think is needed in a project technical manager.
- What are your main responsibilities as a project technical manager?
Mostly making sure that the project is well on track and doesn’t deviate from its goals. Luckily all team members are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, so I got a lot of support there. However, my main responsibility, as my function description already implies, is to produce technologically advanced rocket that meets the requirements of flying to 50km with scientific payloads on board. Another of my responsibilities is to ensure every part is integrated correctly and organizing social events.
- You have been leading this team a couple of months now, does being team manager live up to the expectations you had?
Up till now it has certainly matched my expectations, even though initially it took more time to start up the project then originally planned. I think that due to my previous experiences I had a realistic sense of what to expect from the start, and therefore haven’t gotten any large surprises so far. Generally my expectations at the start of my term was to re-evaluate and technically define certain aspects of the technical teams, as well as give the non-technical aspect of the project, e.g. logistics and PR, more thought and organization. These expectations have been realized now and if we continue on this line I am very confident we can successfully complete this project.
- Have there been major troubles along the road so far that kept you awake at night?
Some issues have been at back of head a couple of times, like for instance choosing for either a solid or hybrid rocket propulsion systems. The solid team as well as the hybrid team has put significant effort in developing their propulsion system, but we decided that only one propulsion system will propel the Stratos II to 50km. This means that either way one of the teams will be disappointed. Ensuring that this decision is done in the most honest way meant creating a complicated trade-off system taking into account almost all the aspects of the entire project. This whole solid vs hybrid matter is certainly something that has kept me awake some nights. Furthermore coordinating a group of over 40 people, keeping a clear overview of who does what and when, and also re-inspiring team members after every exam period has sometimes been a troublesome experience.
- You know some of your team members also as close friends, how do they react to your leadership?
Our team consists of students in all sorts of areas of expertise, and therefore I value their opinion more than anything. As the technical end responsible though, I am the one to make the final and hopefully best decision in the interest of the project, and this does sometimes mean I have to decide against ideas of fellow students and close friends on the team. Even though we don’t always agree, there is a clear mutual respect to each other and I certainly favor collaboration against dictating my opinion now that I am project technical manager. The Stratos II is a cooperative project, only made possible by the effort of every single member, and not some company where I outrank everyone. My function is basically to make sure everything runs smoothly and towards our goals and since my team members, fellow students and close friends understand and appreciate this, there has no interference with any friendship on the team.
- Are there any challenges you see arising in the upcoming months?
Plenty, challenges above all are enforcing the tight schedule, which needs a lot of devotion from our team members to keep up with it. Another challenge is to keep the project focused, and goal oriented on all times, whilst not lacking behind on critical parts. Many of the non-technical aspects as logistics start at a later stage in the project, and initiating new sub teams to work on the sponsoring, media, launch site and logistics can be quite challenging as well. As the project matures, I have noticed that our team members are enthusiastic in also partaking in these non-technical teams, which makes it a lot easier to keep up with the schedule and ensure a fantastic end product. However some aspects like finding more scientific payloads for in the Stratos II has thus far been a challenge, and will remain a challenge until we have filled up all our payload slots. We therefore encourage students, scientist and companies who have a payload to contact us, as educational and industrial projects are not only beneficial for our mission but also for the other scientific projects.
- Are you fulfilling other functions within the Stratos II team apart from being team manager?
Before I was installed as the project technical manager I used to be part of the hybrids propulsion development team, where I was mostly responsible for the safety aspect of the hybrids team as well as the combustion chamber development. However I came to the realization that to get the fullest out of our team’s potential, I needed to devote all my time to my new function. This has proved very satisfactory for me, and even though I sometimes miss the days of designing and testing rocket propulsion, I feel this position is where I perform best.
- You have worked in other boards and with others project groups throughout your academic career, what, in your opinion, sets the Stratos II team apart from your previous experiences?
Well, I guess in terms of the ambitious Stratos II sets itself apart from my previous projects. Stratos II is a project started from scratch, to be shaped into a smooth running project with as final goal launching a rocket to 50km. Making new developments, cooperate with not only a large group of students but also with the industry and university is also something that sets Stratos II apart from what I have done before. Also the level professionalism is a lot higher, as well as the discipline required. Each week we make new technical progress as well as progress on the project as a whole, and this is rather exciting.
- Could you elaborate on your future career plans? Do they involve rocketry and/or management?
I still have a rough 2 years to decide on my future career, so I like to keep my options open. For now I am going to do the honors track in communications or management, as well as getting some more international experience. From there on I hope to see plenty of opportunities rising with one of them hopefully sparking a new interest and projects. The choice of my thesis is probably going to be largely deterministic for my future career, but that is something for the future. I think would eventually combine both, engineering and management, but if another exciting challenge comes on my path I would definitely consider that.
- Do you have any advice for students who also wish to follow the management side of engineering?
The only way to learn if this is your passion is to actually do it. Go look for projects, teams or clubs that interest you and start by doing some commissions. The easiest would be getting into your study club and start small over there. From there you get your experiences and you will be able rise to new and more important functions. Take the time for it though, it took me 4 years to get where I am now so don’t expect to be in board within one year (even though exceptions exist). Explore and do it.