Brian Manning ’10 knew he was destined to be an engineer since he was a kid, he even has the “what do you want to be when you grow up” survey from kindergarten to prove it.

“I’ve been hooked on building things ever since I was a little kid. As I grew up, this gradually evolved from blocks to Legos to cars to race cars, so mechanical engineering felt like a natural fit,” said Manning.

Manning chose MSOE because the experiential learning fulfilled his desire for hands-on learning that helped him develop both in the books and in the garage. He appreciates the variety of courses that helped lay the foundation for a broad set of skills with practical applications.

“Since graduating, I have done anything from writing computer codes to determine radio frequency interface to doing complex metallurgical and structural analysis on parts of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, so having a diverse knowledge base has proven to be very valuable.”

As a student at MSOE, Manning had the privilege of being one of the original members of the rowing team, an experience that created many of his favorite memories at MSOE, including competing in the Dad Vails championship race when his team of “newbies” took home second place. 

Manning gained experiences in and out of the classroom through different internships, including working on automation cells for medical devices as well as researching nuclear thermal rockets in Idaho. After graduating from MSOE in 2010, Manning went on to receive his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. He also worked at a company in Chicago developing alternative-fuel internal combustion engines, and then proceeded to work at SpaceX where he was a responsible engineer on the Falcon 9 thrust structure.  

After receiving his MBA in London in 2018, Manning and some of his grad school friends decided to start their own company, Xona Space Systems. Xona Space Systems is developing a new generation of high-accuracy position, navigation, and timing (PNT) solutions for intelligent systems. Delivered via a secure, high-power signal from low Earth orbit, the patent-pending Pulsar™ service from Xona aims to enable the next wave of connected technology.

Manning explained that Xona was created by passionate people with a desire to enjoy life. He was inspired to start this mission after working for SpaceX where he witnessed a phenomenal company with a clear mission and a dedicated workforce.

“Being in that SpaceX environment felt like being in the Apollo days of NASA and gave me a glimpse of the incredible things people can do when they are inspired. As the founding team was in the early days of forming Xona, I began to realize that this was the same type of team that could build something that would change the world. On top of that, we knew we would have a blast doing it, so we all figured we owed it to ourselves and each other to take the plunge and start Xona.”

Manning hopes Xona will help spread modern technologies across the country while keeping them safe and accessible for all users.

“There are a ton of modern technologies, such as autonomous cars, that have immense potential to benefit humanity, but to do so they need to be accessible and they need to be safe. This is what our system is designed to enable, whether it means keeping a car in its lane in the middle of a snowstorm, or safely landing a drone on a hospital masked in fog, or simply providing small farmers a cost-effective precision agriculture solution. Precise and reliable global navigation has potential to benefit an extremely wide range of markets.”

The Marquette, Michigan native and self-proclaimed “Yooper” would love to see the world of autonomy reach his hometown one day to keep the community safe while driving on snow covered winter roads.

“The system we are developing is a big step in the right direction to help make this happen,” said Manning.

When he’s not busy making the technology of the future, Manning enjoys building and racing motorcycles, as well as navigating the outdoors by snowboarding, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing.

His advice to current students: don’t chase a paycheck. “I made that mistake once. I believe that if you follow what you are passionate about, you will make more in the long run because you will be willing to put your full effort behind something if you enjoy it, and thus will naturally be better at it. This leads to better outcomes both financially and personally.”