Neil Gadhok, SDM ’11: Space — Not Necessarily the Final Frontier

gadhok-spaceNeil Gadhok By Eileen McCluskey
June 8, 2011

Prior to matriculating in MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program, Neil Gadhok worked as project manager at Bristol Aerospace Limited on a multimillion-dollar contract for the Canadian Space Agency’s CASSIOPE satellite bus. In this post he directed the close-out of all outstanding technical issues — including mechanical, thermal, electrical, and software — to ready the satellite bus for its expected 2011 launch.

"The satellite bus houses a number of subsystems which support the operation of a payload," explains Gadhok. For the close-out, everything from flight controls to solar blankets were thoroughly tested. "It meant working in teams to investigate anomalies, determining a plan of action, and executing on that plan in a timely and cost-effective manner. It’s a collaborative effort, and I was blessed to be working with a set of extremely talented people at Bristol Aerospace."

Gadhok launched his career at Bristol in 2002, while studying part time for an MS in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba in his Canadian homeland. By 2005, he was playing a key role as a software developer for the command and data handling system on the CASSIOPE satellite bus. The satellite includes both the Cascade telecommunications system and ePOP, or enhanced polar outflow probe, which will gather and transmit data on solar weather in the ionosphere.

Neil Gadhok looking through partially completed CASSIOPE satellite bus attached to a handling fixture.
Photo courtesy of Bristol Aerospace Ltd.

Gadhok’s technical and leadership skills won him a number of promotions at Bristol and opportunities to work on a variety of satellite systems. To be sure, he could simply have remained in the aerospace industry, but he found he was drawn to the systems thinking focus when he learned about SDM.

"My 16-month investment in this program will pay large dividends over the next 30 years," he says. "At MIT, I’m gaining a very broad view regarding how to approach problems. If I stayed in the aerospace industry I would only hear about the aerospace perspective. In SDM, I get to have in-depth discussions with professors and SDM students, who are highly accomplished professionals from a variety of industries including automotive, biomedical, and manufacturing, to name a few."

Gadhok says the team–based projects that comprise a large number of SDM assignments are particularly insightful, citing his current work in a course entitled Product Design and Development. "We’re going through the product design and development process," he says. "This includes learning about users’ needs and devising solutions that take into account their needs, the technology, and whether the product would make business sense. The interdisciplinary MIT technical/managerial perspective, coupled systems thinking and the real-life experience of my teammates, adds a level of depth that is unsurpassed. And, of course, it’s cool being at MIT."

Wanting to help his classmates and himself to get the most out of SDM, Gadhok serves as chair of the SDM Speaker Series. He works with the students and staff to identify industry executives who embody systems thinking, leadership, and innovation and invites them to have lunch and speak with a select number of SDM students. One recent visitor was Ken Musgrave, director of design at Dell. "The students who attended were excited about engaging in dialog about product design and development with Ken," Gadhok says. "And I’d feel great if a classmate made a connection with a speaker who visited and later took a position with the company."

This summer, during SDM’s summer "business trip" week, Gadhok hopes to bring in speakers from various countries to address leadership and the design of institutions or systems that may change after major political and/or sociological shifts. "A lot of my classmates are from nations that are changing profoundly," says Gadhok. "The speakers we’ve identified have tremendous experience leading the development of systems at a national level, and are internationally respected."

Gazing into the future, Gadhok says he may return to satellite development, "or I am considering applying these new skills to develop technology strategies for space companies or related fields." Wherever he goes, "The SDM program will be my launching point to new and exciting places."

Neil Gadhok
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography