Padraig Lysandrou: This aerospace fellow is decreasing barriers to making

Padraig Lysandrou, B.S. ’18 (electrical and computer engineering, ECE) and an early M.Eng. student in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell was recently awarded an inaugural Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, which connects exceptional current college juniors, seniors and graduate students with paid summer internships in the exciting field of commercial spaceflight, as well as with notable aerospace leaders for mentorship.

Upon completing the summer internship, the Fellows will remain among an elite group of alumni who will have the opportunity to continue to network with the program, their Fellow peers, assigned mentors and future Fellows, on the path to becoming future space icons.

Lysandrou will be interning at SpaceX this summer, with a focus on avionics and guidance navigation and control (GNC). Working in the aerospace industry isn’t new for him, however. He’s interned in the aerospace industry every summer since his freshmen year—at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral, Florida branch as a launch engineer and again at their Hawthorne, California branch as an RF engineer. He’s also interned at Blue Origin working on RF communications. Since his freshman year, Lysandrou has been involved with Professor Mason Peck’s Space Systems Design Studio and was a member of the Violet student project team. 

This summer he’ll be in Seattle working for SpaceX on Starlink, a constellation of satellites that they are developing to supply internet access to the world. He’ll be working on attitude control technology and sensing, which will include developing algorithms and working with sensors and electronics to understand the dynamics and attitude of the satellites.  

“Up until now, I’ve always been guided to do the traditional framework of academia, go on to grad school, that sort of thing,” said Lysandrou. “But I’m more industry driven. Receiving this internship which has a strong entrepreneurial focus and having a mentor who is a seasoned entrepreneur in the commercial aerospace industry tell me that I have good ideas, that I could go out in the world, do some of this stuff, and try to make the world a better place, is really valuable advice.” 

He didn’t start out with a career in aerospace in mind, though. Interested in tinkering and making things since childhood, Lysandrou discovered Cornell ECE alum Jeremy Blum’s YouTube video about a project he had completed in Bruce Land’s class, ECE 4760, Designing with Microcontrollers, which brought Cornell Engineering to his attention.

“I spent a lot of my childhood building model rockets. When I was 12, I got interested in electronics and making, started tinkering with Arduino, and built an electronics lab in my basement,” said Lysandrou. “I was also very interested in particle physics, so I started off at Cornell as an applied and engineering physics major. I also immediately joined Peck’s lab. During sophomore year I realized I’ve always liked electronics and it seemed like the right fit, so I made the jump to ECE. It was the easiest decision I’ve made, the best decision really.” 

Outside of his coursework and aerospace interest, Lysandrou is the president of the Cornell Maker Club. The lab on the second floor of Phillips Hall has seen increased activity over the past few years—which has him hopeful for the club’s future. 

“I think that building fun projects with embedded systems is great and it’s always been fun for me,” said Lysandrou. “It was the backbone of my spare time in high school, making cool devices, tinkering around with projects and hacking things. I think that more people should do it, and I think ECE is a great major for getting to know how to do that kind of stuff.”

He joined the Maker Club his freshman year and now runs the club as a volunteer just because he is passionate about it. “We’re trying to decrease barriers of uncertainty that people have,” he said. “We help them answer questions like, ‘What do I build? How do I do this? Where do I start?’”

One barrier for people is cost of supplies, so the club often buys parts for member’s projects. Lysandrou tells them, “Send me a list of materials. I will buy everything for you, and I want to see you build something cool.” They also give members a place to keep their projects, and the lab is accessible with the tools and resources for members to work whenever they want.

Another barrier is uncertainty about how to do things or how to approach a problem. Lysandrou and some of the other club members act as mentors, pointing people in the right directions, suggesting alternate systems and methods for what they’re trying to do, and giving them resources, all of which empowers them to continue making.

“The whole goal is to be open to people and to offer them what they need to make their projects,” said Lysandrou. “As long as people know that we exist and that we are a resource for them, they keep coming back. So far, people love the lab. I’m happy to see that it’s flourishing.” 

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