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The space sector landscape: bigger than you think

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Photo credit: JAXA

When looking to break into the aerospace industry, it may be difficult to know where to start. There are a lot of options that, especially for the person beginning to acquaint themselves with the sector, will blur together. Allow me to give a bit of structure to an often over-simplified landscape. First, there are three main parts to the sector as a whole: government, commercial, and academic. In this post, I will explain the government and commercial pillars, because they are experiencing the most growth. But I also don’t want to leave out the academic pillar as it has certainly played an important role in the growth of the aerospace sector.

In 2020, 87 countries invested $80 billion into space programs.

Internationally, the number of national governments erecting their own space agencies has seen tremendous growth in recent years. According to the latest data from Euroconsult, "there are 87 countries currently investing in space." Additionally, UNOOSA lists 37 separate countries with space agencies. Many of these agencies have launch capabilities or are working to develop them. In the last five years alone, the world watched as a spate of countries stepped up to the task of forming their own space agencies, among them New Zealand, Portugal, and Luxembourg. No doubt, these agencies will be looking to bring in talented people who are passionate about space exploration or utilization and also understand how to work within their respective government frameworks.

Within this collection of national space agencies there are a variety of strategies and capabilities. Some agencies focus their efforts on maintaining state of the art observatories to learn about our solar system and beyond, others run astronaut programs, and others have launch capabilities. If working for your government space agency is something you are interested in, understanding what that agency provides to the global space community is important. And as the newer space agencies get off the ground, it also important to understand the strategic direction that government is headed in. It is worth noting, also according to that Euroconsult report, that global spending for space programs has increased 10% in 2020, to the tune of more than $80 billion. So, it is most certainly worth investigating.

The commercial space sector has also seen a boom in funding as well as demand. Most of the organizations within this subset are high-tech engineering companies that provide a number of products and services for the industry. Two have grown substantially in recent years to represent the bulk of commercial space sector. The first are satellite companies, which have become a cornerstone of the telecommunications industry. But, these organizations are also developing better technologies for Earth observation, space exploration, defense, and geospatial positioning. Some of these companies have developed large constellations of interconnected satellites and are now shifting their focus on providing services for a variety of stakeholders both corporate and government. With all that data being collected by satellites, there is a small but growing industry of companies that are taking that data and synthesizing it into useful products.

With all of those satellites needing to go into high Earth orbit, there has therefore been an elevated demand for launch services. There are certainly a few media darlings among them, particularly those building human launch services and transportation. But for every launch services company that grabs a headline there are probably ten more that don’t. And many of these companies are leveraging cutting-edge technology and creating sustainable business practices to reduce the cost of launch. What is exciting about that, is that by reducing the cost of launch it has made access to space more affordable, thereby allowing more “new space” companies to enter the marketplace.

Once upon a time, Space was solely the domain of a government program among a selection of wealthy countries. Now, there are many more options...

There is also a small, but growing, cadre of companies working to make low Earth orbit a destination of its own. Whether for research, manufacturing, or a playground for the ultrawealthy, there are companies building the infrastructure that will allow humans to work and live in space. And these spunky companies are gaining a lot of traction with investors.

Within all of these pillars there are needs for talent in all departments, as with any organization, not just engineering. They need people to conduct sales and business development, execute government and corporate agreements, and to communicate their successes. They need program managers, product developers, manufacturing experts and human resource wizards. Government agencies are also looking for content creators as well as strategic thinkers who will maintain, deliver, or develop objectives that will satisfy legislators and their constituencies. And some of the companies, as they experience aggressive growth, are light on middle management.

The truth is, there has never been a better time to explore a career in the space sector. Once upon a time, Space was solely the domain of a government program within a selection of wealthy countries. Now, with an explosion of private companies, there are many more options out there for someone who is interested. I hope that now you have a better understanding of the space-economy. If you have specific questions about how to navigate employment opportunities in the space sector, please reach out!

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