The first time Thomas Collins’ father took him up in a plane at the Hampton Airfield it was in one of those small two-seaters that have flaps for doors. He was about 1,000 feet up and realized there wasn’t much between him and the ground. And he loved it.
Moments like that, and conversations he had with his pilot-father who always encouraged him to ask questions, instilled in Collins the passion to be involved with space travel. The culmination of that desire comes on June 1 when he starts an internship with Rocket Lab, a private aerospace manufacturer and launch service provider headquartered in California, with facilities in Wallops Island, Virginia, and New Zealand.
“The combination of the internship, mentor and summit makes the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship a dream come true for any space loving student.”
Collins was matched with Rocket Lab after receiving a fellowship from the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program, which provides paid 10-12 week internships to exceptional college juniors, seniors and graduate students with leading commercial spaceflight companies. Collins will spend the summer working with a mentor who, in addition to guiding him through the internship, will later help him in his search for a full-time position within the industry. The program ends with a two-day networking summit.
“That's one of the many reasons why this fellowship is incredible, it not only pairs you with outstanding companies but assigns you a mentor that has experience in the spaceflight industry,” the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, resident says. “The combination of the internship, mentor and summit makes the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship a dream come true for any space loving student.”
Collins’ internship will be centered around the manufacturing engineering team. Rocket Lab makes rockets for high frequency launches of small satellites. The engine parts for Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle are made with 3-D printers. Currently, the Electron is a disposable one-time use rocket, but Rocket Lab is developing a recovery system that employs a parachute to slow its descent so it can be caught by a helicopter and returned to land. The latest efforts in rocket manufacturing, Collins says, aim to increase frequency and usability, so the rockets can be used for more than one launch.
“If you think about it in terms of airplanes, if a plane was made to fly only from New York to LA and then you threw the plane away, no one would be able to afford the tickets,” he says.
An engineering physics major, Collins transferred to UNH from the University of Maine after taking a summer course in Durham. “When I saw the facilities here and how much UNH had to offer, I made the switch,” Collins says. “That was the first step toward my career in spaceflight.”
He has been a member of UNH’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) since its founding in 2017. As excited as he is to start his internship, Collins is sorry to miss the Spaceport America Cup competition SEDS members will participate in on June 16 that will have teams from around the world launching the rockets they made.
“It only takes one step after another to get to your goal,” Collins says. “NASA and the space race encouraged me to take my first step. I want to be a part of the team that encourages others to take theirs.”