Last Saturday, SpaceX and NASA launched a historical flight test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. It was the first time in history a commercial provider sent astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and the first time in almost a decade a crew travelled to space from the United States. It turned out that three Bulgarian engineers and researchers working at SpaceX have in one way or another played an important role in this industry-defining achievement, so we explored their LinkedIn profiles to learn more about who they’re and what’s been their educational and professional journey to their current position at SpaceX.
Kiko Dontchev is the Bulgarian who had one of the most responsible roles in Demo-2 – SpaceX’s first-ever crewed mission. He is a director of ground operations for the Dragon capsule and has worked at Elon Musk’s company for 10 years now.
Having moved to the United States at the age of 3, Dontchev graduated from the University of Michigan with a MEng in Space Systems. While there, he started the school’s first ever CubeSat project creating the foundation for numerous missions currently operational in orbit.
Dontchev became a part of SpaceX’s team in May 2010 and started working on the development of Lithium Ion batteries for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. Three years later, he progressed to the position of lead development engineer for the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Not so long after, he started managing all Dragon ground operations activities at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida – from pre-flight vehicle processing, through vehicle recovery and spacesuit processing to crew activities. In the meantime, Dontchev also led the execution of a successful Pad Abort Test, a critical demonstration for making sure that astronauts will be safe during a human spaceflight. For a while he also worked on Red Dragon, a SpaceX concept for the use of uncrewed spacecraft for low-cost Mars missions.
One of Dontchev’s latest projects: Dragon 2 propulsive hover test. © SpaceX
Dr. Margarita Marinova is currently responsible for the mission architecture and systems development of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle whose ultimate goal is to be able to reach Mars and carry passengers to other space destinations like The Moon. Previously, she was actively involved in the development of the Falcon 9 rocket spending over four years as a propulsion systems development engineer. In that role, Marinova was responsible for all aspects of the Stage Propulsion Systems of Falcon 9 prototypes with a particular focus on reusability.
Her Mars-related work goes back all the way to her doctoral studies in Planetary Science at Caltech – where she explored the formation of the Martian dichotomy ( the significant difference in surface age and relative altitude between The Red Planet’s Southern and Northern hemisphere).
Later in her life, she worked at NASA where she investigated polar and extreme environments and their implications for exploration of Mars. For instance, she researched ice stability in Antarctica and explored its relationship with ice stability on Mars.
The youngest Bulgarian member of SpaceX’s team is the 25-year-old Orlin Velev. He has been working on the structural stability of SpaceX ships for over three years. Velev has a degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and it’s also worth mentioning that Velev’s father is a prominent professor at the North Carolina State University known for his work in soft matter, colloid science, and nanoscience and having over 23, 000 citations of his work.