My SGAC experience was the start of a lifetime changing journey

An interview with David Petrillo

by Natalia Lemarquis

Meet Davide Petrillo – the newly appointed Deputy Executive Director of SGAC. This interview will let you know him better as a person and as an SGAC member. Davide shared with us his vision on key aspects of SGAC and the goals he wants to achieve in the next few years. Also, he sheds light on his attempt to become an airforce pilot, and his most memorable moments of being a part of SGAC.  

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello everyone, Ciao a tutti! First of all, thank you for giving me this opportunity to introduce myself to you. My name is Davide (David + an additional “e” yes, it could sound weird to pronounce). I am 28, I am an Aerospace Engineer and I am Italian. I would like to start by saying that the space field caught me in an unusual way. When I was in high school, my dream was to be an airplane pilot and I decided to apply to the Italian Aeronautical Academy. During the selection process, I got rejected because my legs were 1 cm longer than the standard requirement. Because of this, my passion for maths and Aerospace brought me to say “okay, let’s make the airplanes bigger” and I decided to study Aerospace Engineering.

My professional career brought me to London (UK) as a Business Manager for Alten Ltd and prior to that I was working in Milano (Italy) as a Business Analyst for Accenture, global management consulting company that provides strategy, consulting, technology and operations services. My adventure with Space started before that, when I had the opportunity to be a part of the FELDs Experiment selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the Drop Your Thesis! 2014 programme. FELDs tested a tethered electromagnetic soft docking technology in microgravity conditions at the Drop Tower of the Centre of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen, Germany. 

Then in 2015, I attended my first International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Jerusalem and won the “Hans Von Muldau Team Award” for the best team project. This was also where I learnt about SGAC and decided to join the organisation. I joined SGAC in 2016 and I was appointed as part of the 3rd E-SGW organizing team, the SGC 2018 organizing team specifically focused on the organization and management of the Special Track “Bridging the Space Divide” Working Group, Space Generation Congress 2019 Deputy Manager (Washington D.C., USA) and Space Generation Congress 2020 Manager (Dubai, UAE). Recently, I am very happy and honoured with the appointment as a Deputy Executive Director of SGAC and I am looking forward to this adventure. 

How did you first get involved with SGAC?

In 2016 I got another opportunity to present a paper at the IAC 2016. Luckily, before going to Guadalajara, one of my friends Laura (at that moment she was the Italian NPoC) was mentioning that the SGAC was hosting the Space Generation Congress, the annual meeting of the SGAC always in conjunction with IAC. Seeing a great chance to gain the experience and getting access to the SGAC network, I quickly decided to submit my application as a delegate for the SGC 2016, hence starting my SGAC experience which for me was the start of a lifetime changing journey.

What has been your funniest moment within SGAC so far? 

I would need more than two hands to count all the wonderful and funniest moments that SGAC gave me. But definitely, the most hilarious moment that I had within SGAC was during the last SGC 2019 in Washington D.C. where some of my SGAC colleagues made fun of me because I was not (and I am still not) able to correctly pronounce the word “Manhattan”.

What is, according to you, the main strength of SGAC? 

Thanks to my previous SGAC experience, I have been following its growth very closely. SGAC represents for its members an experience they have never done before and has a variety of features that makes the organization unique and forward thinking. SGAC is about this wonderful group of like-minded friends who are passionate about space. It is about helping everyone across the world with that passion to make it a reality. I am extremely lucky and honoured to be part of this great organisation and the SGAC family.

What is your vision for SGAC in the next few years? How do you see SGAC evolving? 

First of all, I see SGAC as a catalyst for driving workforce development with dedicated students and young professionals that makes the organization unique and forward thinking. SGAC has given a lot to me and now I want to make sure that my contribution can enhance our member’s ability to become successful individuals and provide a positive contribution to our organization. In addition, the vision of SGAC is strongly focused on empowering young people and supporting the sustainable development goals. I stand behind this idea. I implemented it already in 2019 and I want to make it a fundamental part of SGC 2020. Moreover, the key objectives that I would express for expanding the success of the organization include, but are not limited to, the inclusivity of a new “SGAC Education” section to develop programmes that will inspire young people to pursue careers in all domains related to space, to drive the workforce of tomorrow. In addition, I want to focus on including “non-space” sector companies and agencies, stretching out and welcoming new collaborations from less traditional space backgrounds, as well as encouraging growth in other areas.

What are your top 5 objectives/goals for your term as Executive Director? 

In my view, SGAC takes all its essence from its people : its members, its teams and its sponsors, which all play an essential role in the expansion of the success of the organization.

  1. Our members come from all over the world to our events as delegates, participating in our Project Groups. Without them, SGAC would not be SGAC. From my point of view, SGAC is already showing an exemplary attitude towards providing professional development opportunities to our members. On the other hand, I truly believe that we need to provide more resources to SGAC members through scholarships so that they can attend SGAC events and activities. 
  2. Our teams are needed to support all our activities and their work is crucial. I would however be willing to work on an optimized communication flow within SGAC. I believe that one of the main challenges is to achieve a very effective coordination of all our members across the organization. As we organize more events, activities and projects, increase the size of our teams and grow as an organisation, managing this growth and ensuring that we are prepared for challenges ahead requires planning thoroughly how to prepare our teams and continuously improving as an organization. 
  3. Our sponsors’ support – the vision of SGAC is strongly focused on empowering young people and supporting the sustainable development goals. I stand behind this idea with the vision of implementing it for the next SGC 2020 and I will continue to push for this vision also in  the next few years. 
  4. Moreover, I think that our teams can help to inspire the next generation and I believe that the SGAC education section would be the way to develop programmes that will inspire young people to pursue careers in all domains related to space to drive the workforce of tomorrow. 
  5. In addition, I want to focus on including “non-space” sector companies and agencies stretching out and welcoming new collaborations from less traditional space backgrounds, as well as encouraging growth in other areas. Reaching out to new partners will bring a variety of opportunities to SGAC members who want to get involved in the space sector in many, sometimes not traditional ways.

How do you plan to achieve your goals? 

From my personal perspective, being the next Deputy Executive Director means being someone that can fulfil the role as a “focal contact point” not only for international cooperation, but also as someone that can enhance our members’ ability to become successful individuals and provide a final positive contribution to our organization. My outgoing and friendly nature allows me to interact well with members at all levels, and I always put myself on bringing the right measure of enthusiasm into the equation. In addition, having an entrepreneurial mind-set, along with a proven ability to build relationships with diverse professionals means that I am confident in my ability to help SGAC to build and expand upon its long tradition of excellence.

Anything you want to tell our community as you just started your new role? 

I am extremely honoured to join the incredible tradition of our SGAC Deputy and Executive Directors and start building on the exceptional example of our Executive Director, Clémentine Decoopman that, together with the Operation Manager Matteo Cappella, are training me during this period in an exceptional way. I am looking forward to working in close cooperation with all the members in the constructive spirit which has always characterized our work and that will drive the future success of SGAC. I am very confident in our collective capacity for improving and working together towards progressing as an organization and taking SGAC to the next level!

Which is your favourite pizza, and what is exactly the Hawaiian one?

All the pizzas! Except for the Hawaiian one of course, never ask this question to an Italian 🙂