Careers in space

Chris Pearson STFCLast week we held our ‘Careers in Space’ panel event featuring speakers from the UK Space Agency, RAL Space, Oxford Space Systems and UKSEDS.

Over 100 students attended and learnt about the huge variety of careers available in this rapidly growing sector. Read on to find out more…

Why is space important?

Space underpins our daily lives and, according to, in the last five years the sector has grown at a rate of 7.5% compared to 1.7% for the rest of the economy. Space exploration allows us to further scientific knowledge and monitor not only our own planet, but discover new planets within our solar system. From providing location information to the emergency services, to sending accurate meteorological data back to earth, there are plenty of practical ways in which we use information from space.

Everyone has played around on Google Earth at some point, but have you ever thought about how that information could be used? (Apart from searching for your house of course!). In fact, data could be used to capture different information from agricultural growth, through gas concentrations, ocean and planetary temperatures to solar storm forecasting, for example.

So what do we mean by a career in space?

There are approximately 38,500 people employed in the sector, and it is predicted this figure will double by 2030. The workforce is made up of 74% working in space applications, 15% space operations, 7% space manufacturing and 3% in ancillary services. Already you can see there are a huge range of roles available!

You could think of the sector like this:

Designing – new technology and applications

Building – satellites, sensors and launchers

Exploring, Discovering and Understanding – our planet, the galaxy, the universe

Improving – the lives of others

Helping – by providing better information and solutions to real world problems

Some example job titles include: Data Scientist, Earth Observation Specialist, Meteorologist, Quality Control Engineer, Software Architect, Propulsion Engineer, alongside more general business functions including Project Manager, Legal Advisor, Business Development and Human Resources.

What skills do you need?

Degrees in maths, physics, computer science, astrophysics, materials science, engineering (aerospace, electronic and mechanical) and the spatial sciences (Geography, Geology, Geophysics, Meteorology) are all good routes into the industry. According to the UK Space Agency, there are places for all disciplines within the sciences – “a place for you somewhere”.

The space sector relies on innovation and collaboration, so employers like to see evidence of a range of interests, adaptability and practical skills as well as good qualifications. The importance of programming skills can’t be emphasised enough and knowledge of commercial and management practices is also useful. Projects are increasingly international, so foreign languages and an understanding of different cultures could be useful assets.

What are the benefits?

  • Great prospects, lots of growth in the sector (total income in 2014/15 was £13.7bn)
  • Opportunity to work in international teams
  • Great earning potential
  • Opportunities for exploration and travel

What next?

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