Flights of Inspiration

Satellite engineer Kourken Hamalian’s mission to bring the internet to millions

Kourken Hamalian has two great passions in life: soccer and satellites. A signed Liverpool FC shirt—a 50th birthday gift—takes pride of place on the wall in his home office, where a couple of exciting satellite models are also on display.

Having spent the past 23 years perfecting his craft at Boeing, a company that not only specializes in commercial jetliners but also designs and manufacturers rockets, satellites and telecommunications equipment, Hamalian is well versed in how real satellites are built and recognizes their enormous capabilities.

He works as a Spacecraft Assembly Integration and Test Integrated Product Team Lead, a dynamic yet demanding role that entails endless hours of decision-making and a seemingly infinite number of calculations and what-if scenarios that leave no room for error, although he succeeds in making it all sound rather straightforward.   

“To put it simply, I’m a project manager in charge of building and testing satellites. I manage huge teams that work together to construct satellites from the ground up all the way to the launch period, which can take 18 months or more depending on the complexity of what we are creating. Each project involves a diverse group of people, including electrical, aerospace, mechanical, industrial and quality engineers as well as fabrication technicians. We also rely on the skills of test engineers when we reach the final stages. In accordance with the program, there could be upward of 70 people working on a variety of tasks, so there’s a significant amount of pressure,” he says.

Hamalian’s innate ability to handle stressful situations may have something to do with an unsettled upbringing in the Middle East. Born in Syria during a time of great political strife, he was just a young child when his parents made the difficult decision to relocate to Lebanon—a country they believed would offer greater stability and better opportunities.

If you look beyond the horizon, how these technologies are going to help people connect, educate themselves and learn valuable skills, it’s amazing and shouldn’t be underestimated for a second.

After completing his elementary education at AGBU Yervant Demirdjian School, Hamalian attended AGBU Tarouhy-Hovagimian School, where he excelled in all subjects, particularly in mathematics and the sciences.

“I really enjoyed being a student at Tarouhy-Hovagimian, so much so that when the political strife became too tense and I had to attend the Armenian Evangelical College (AEC) for a year, I couldn’t wait to get back to AGBU to finish the 12th grade,” he explains.

But unbeknownst to an adolescent Hamalian, further upheaval in the mid-eighties would change the course of his life.

As Lebanon’s Civil War intensified, he and his family were, once again, forced to uproot and seek refuge in a new country—this time in the U.S. By now, however, he had already completed two years of an engineering degree at the American University of Beirut, which was made possible through an AGBU Scholarship. Fortunately, the scholarship was transferred to the University of La Verne, where Hamalian resumed his studies with dogged determination, despite the massive culture shock.

“The experience was jarring, and I had a hard time adapting to the States at the start because I’d only ever known life in the Middle East, surrounded by family and friends with familiar sights and smells. Yet here I was, living alone in a dorm in a foreign country. So, there were moments I felt very lonely and totally outside my comfort zone. But I was lucky that my dad was there to guide me; he was my biggest champion and greatest role model. He encouraged me to persevere, as did my mom,” Hamalian says.

Kourken Hamalian2 Credit_Boeing

Kourken Hamalian2 Credit_Boeing
The TDRS J Series Satellite built by Boeing for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering, Hamalian chose to further his education by enrolling in a postgraduate program at California State University, Northridge. There, he obtained a master’s degree in electrical engineering, with an emphasis on communications engineering, and found his true calling.

“Communications was my passion, and as soon as I finished my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the field. Receiving my Project Management Professional (PMP) License was the icing on the cake, so you could say that I haven’t looked back since,” he adds.

Fast-forward more than two decades and Hamalian is just as dedicated to his profession today as he was when he first started out. He is a highly respected and valued member of staff at Boeing, one who has been tasked with a number of high-profile projects that have positively impacted people all over the world.

Hamalian considers IS-33, a satellite created for a Luxembourg communications company Intelsat, among his most memorable missions. He recalls: “When we worked on it, I knew that it was going to be used somewhere in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, but I had no idea where exactly. I later read the official press release and noticed that one of the countries that would be benefiting from the satellite was Armenia. So, that was a very proud moment for me. It kind of hit home. I just wish I knew from the beginning!”

These days, Hamalian and his team are working on a project with ViaSat, which has fast become a major competitor in the ever-evolving internet landscape, particularly in Wi-Fi services on board passenger flights. And while ViaSat counts a number of big airline carriers, such as American Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and Delta among its impressive list of clients, the three satellites being built at Boeing under the watchful eye of Hamalian will revolutionize communications, delivering faster internet and greater coverage to airlines, travelers and home users.

“This has definitely been one of the toughest missions to date. My colleagues and I have been working practically seven days a week for the past year to get the project off the ground. Fingers-crossed, we will be launching in the second quarter of 2023. The first satellite will cover the entire Americas; the second will serve Europe and Africa, and the third will focus on Asia. Together, these three satellites will be the most powerful ever built,” he states matter-of-factly.


Hamalian proudly stands in front of the newly constructed Viasat-3 F1 Satellite which is scheduled to be launched in 2023.

Hamalian proudly stands in front of the newly constructed Viasat-3 F1 Satellite which is scheduled to be launched in 2023.

Hamalian inspects the Thuraya D3 Satellite inside an anechoic chamber at the Boeing facility

Hamalian inspects the Thuraya D3 Satellite inside an anechoic chamber at the Boeing facility.

With a third of the world’s population without internet access, it’s fair to say that these ambitious projects—and so many like them—are having a colossal impact. Even Hamalian, who comes across as wholesomely modest, acknowledges the tremendous advancements and how he and his team are enhancing the lives of millions.

“I don’t take things for granted and keep reminding my team that what we do really matters. If you look beyond the horizon, how these technologies are going to help people connect, educate themselves and learn valuable skills, it’s amazing and shouldn’t be underestimated for a second. Providing internet to areas where it is currently unavailable is the greatest reward of all,” he says.

Even with so much on his plate professionally speaking, Hamalian still enjoys playing the odd game of basketball with AGBU, the organization through which he met his wife, Rita. The couple’s two children also attend the AGBU school in Los Angeles.

Hamalian’s boundless loyalty to family, friends, co-workers and community is summed up by the words “you’ll never walk alone,” a motto he applies to all aspects of his life. It is also a subtle nod to his other great pleasure—soccer.

“It’s interesting that ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ the famous song from the legendary musical ‘Carousel,’ is Liverpool FC’s official anthem. Whenever I hear it, I feel quite emotional because it reminds me that there is always hope, even in the darkest of nights,” he concludes.

Originally published in the June 2023 ​issue of AGBU Insider. end character

About the AGBU Insider

AGBU Insider profiles extraordinary AGBU program alumni across a diverse set of industries and passions. With exclusive interviews and photography, each issue reveals the Armenian impact on society, community, and industry.