INTRODUCTION TO THE SPACETECH JOB MARKET
Space was once the final frontier of imagination. Now, it and space technology (SpaceTech) are among the most important areas of economic development. Nearly a century old, the SpaceTech industry is responsible for much of our modern society. The industry will only increase in size and scope as the world’s population grows, leaving us with ever-expanding economic opportunities and spacetech jobs abundant, where even the sky isn’t the limit.
What is SpaceTech?
Generally, SpaceTech is any technology for entering space, maintaining equipment in space, systems used during spaceflight, and returning people and things from space. However, in practice, SpaceTech refers to a lot more. Anything related to a space program, either public or private, is in some way SpaceTech. That means it also includes consumer goods originally developed so humans could function and live in space and space-like environments.
People first developed SpaceTech to get spacecraft into orbit and to allow people to survive in that environment. SpaceTech exists to either overcome the differences in environment that space presents, including a lack of gravity and a lack of atmosphere. This requires reliable structures, electronics, mechanisms, and software that can function in extreme environments and has limited weight.
What is the Space Economy?
SpaceTech is an important component of the space economy. The space economy refers to all activities and resources, public and private, used to explore, research, understand, manage, and use space. It includes both the space industry and the consumer use of space and space-related products and services.
Benefits of SpaceTech
While only rockets come to mind when people think about SpaceTech, much of the modern technology we use comes from SpaceTech development. SpaceTech drives the market. The harsh environment of space makes it the perfect testing ground for new ideas and innovations. This lead to some truly revolutionary developments that have transformed the global economy and our lives.
Here are some significant benefits brought about by SpaceTech:
- Mobile phone camera—we all have one, but smartphone cameras only exist because of SpaceTech. Space agencies needed small digital cameras they could use on spacecraft. So, they made them.
- Scratch-resistant lenses—highly resistant to spotting and scratches, scratch-resistant sunglass lenses exist so spacecraft can have windows that will not crack.
- Water purification—astronauts must bring their water with them, and since spaceships have limited cargo holds, the astronauts needed a way to recycle their water. Advanced water purification systems and filtration technology were the solutions.
- Clean energy technology—companies developed clean energy consumption devices from the research used to create the space shuttle main engines.
- CAT scans—Computer Axial Tomography (CAT) scanners were originally designed to scan for objects in space.
- Chemical detection—space agencies developed pH and moisture sensitive sensors to keep aircraft free from dangerous conditions.
- Freeze drying technology—food must be preserved for long periods to be useful on space missions. Freeze drying was the solution for NASA’s Apollo missions.
- Video enhancement system—military and other government agencies use NASA’s Video Image Stabilization and Registration (VISAR) technique to solve crimes, effectively deploy weapons, and improve communication between remote offices and locations.
- Highway safety—the safety groves along highways was an aircraft accident prevention tool for wet airport runways.
- Artificial limbs—all modern prosthetics derive from NASA’s regular funding and innovative approaches toward robotics and shock-absorption materials. This also includes robotic parts such as the artificial muscle systems that Environmental Robotics developed.
These are just a small sample of the benefits we have today because of past SpaceTech research and development. Only time will tell what new innovations will come from the space research being done today.
The Future of SpaceTech
Speaking of today’s research, there is no single market or industry at the national level for SpaceTech. It is one of the few truly global projects. You could end up developing new tech in the UK that will be assembled in the United States before being launched into space from Russia for a customer in Australia. This global cooperation will likely continue to increase as we venture further out into space. A great way to discover some of the boldest ideas about space exploration are SpaceTech TED Talks by forward-thinking minds of this industry.
Beyond space exploration, the future commercial use of SpaceTech will take on a more global approach as well. You can imagine a world where severe storms, tornadoes, and flash flooding no longer threaten human life thanks to what SpaceTech companies are working as you read this. In less than a decade, you might even be able to fly from London to Australia in less than an hour.
Both NASA and the ESA are working with companies and universities around the world to produce these new emerging technologies. The most important relate to four unique goals: preserving human life, discovering more about the origins of the universe, and preventing potential threats to our civilization.
Using Lightning to Track Tornados
Tornados cause over £3bn in damage around the world, and now several companies are looking to find ways to better predict them so we can save more lives. One promising method involves lightning activity. Lighting high above the clouds often accompanies tornados and the space-based Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) will scan the world below for the steep rises in high-altitude lightning that proceed severe thunderstorms to provide ample warning for those living in the area.
Deep Space Astronomy
Space exploration has and will always be the primary function of SpaceTech. The latest satellites and telescope systems aim to take pictures of the dawn of time. The Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) will launch into space along with the James Webb Telescope in October 2018 from French Guiana on an ESA’s Ariane 5 rocket. It will be able to create detailed images of the earliest stars and galaxies in the process of formation.
Traveling at Mach 20
Hypersonic travel is not new, and we already have aircraft that routinely travel faster than Mach 4, or five times the speed of sound. However, all attempts to go past Mach 20 have ended in failure, and forget about going Mach 30—though, several companies are trying. One German company wants to reduce the travel time from Europe to Australia to 90 minutes by 2030. On the other hand, Lockheed Martin wants to bring that down to under an hour.
Tracking Space Weather
While everyone talks about the weather, most people do not consider space weather a threat. However, space weather can quickly knock out our communication, electrical, and aviation systems. Fortunately, a Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) is on the job, looking for upcoming geomagnetic storms from the sun. Another instrument called the geoCABB aims to track carbon levels in Earth’s atmosphere.
6 Development Challenges in SpaceTech
SpaceTech exists primarily to deliver things to space and to further our understanding of it. Thus, many of its challenges reflect the challenges inherent in space exploration. Space itself is infinitely more hostile than any other environment humans have experienced. We need new, innovative technology to make any headway. These new tools will let us overcome the issues that still accompany spaceflight and the commercial use of space.
1. Overcoming Gravity
Before any SpaceTech can work in space, it must get there. However, leaving Earth is expensive. For most missions, fuel counts for a tenth of the budget. That increases for crewed missions, thanks to all the heavy life-support systems. Research is underway to reduce the weight of spacecraft through new composite materials and exotic metal alloys. Scientists are also considering more powerful and efficient fuel mixtures.
2. Our Ships Are Way Too Slow
Once you reach space, moving around is easy. There is nothing there to slow you down. There is nothing there to speed you up either. If you want to go anywhere you must use more fuel to get up to speed and to slow down once you reach your destination. We need a more economical propulsion method if we to get the most out of space.
3. Cleaning Up Space
The past century brought us wonderful technological advances, but it also left us with a space debris problem. From broken spacecraft parts to astronaut tools, the planet has a ring of debris that can cause damage to satellites, space stations, and spacecraft. Plans are underway to try to clean up the mess, starting with reducing the rate we produce it. All satellites now fall out of orbit so they can burn up in the atmosphere once they finish their missions.
4. Health Risks
Space is as hostile to astronauts as it is to spacecraft. Outside Earth’s magnetic field, space is filled with cancer-causing radiation. It can also cause cataracts and possibly Alzheimer’s. Spacecraft designers want to switch spacecraft hulls to magnetic plastics to reduce the amount of radiation reaching the astronauts inside.
Besides radiation, astronauts must face the perils of weightlessness. Floating in zero gravity strains the body in such a way that blood cells can explode. It can also give you kidney stones and a lazy heart. Exercise is one way to combat this phenomenon, but astronauts still lose bone mass. To truly fix the problem, we need some sort of anti-gravity.
5. Crashing Is Not an Option
SpaceTech is expensive. You do not want to remake every component every time you need them. Because of this, anything that you send to space must survive re-entry into the atmosphere, as well as space as an environment. This is especially true for equipment sent to other planets since you will not be able to repair them.
Even if you do send astronauts along with your equipment, they are not going to find the materials they need to make the repairs. They have to carry everything with them, which is both expensive and limits the size and scope of the mission and your SpaceTech. Fortunately, we can mine metals and minerals on other worlds. We just need the SpaceTech to process them into the oxygen, building materials, and fuels we need. However, as Ian Crawford, a planetary scientist at Birbeck, University of London, notes that each celestial body has a different set of materials. We still need SpaceTech that is light and easily portable to mine and transport the materials to where we need them.
6. Space Farming is Difficult if Not Impossible
While farming does not sound like something to do with space, astronauts still need to eat. Transporting food supplies to the International Space Station works, but this is not a viable solution for when we go further out into space. Martian colonies and interplanetary spacecraft need ways to grow their own food as the alternatives are too cost-prohibitive to be practical. Thus, we need working space farms wherever we go beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Space farms make any space venture sustainable as the plants can recycle wastewater, generate oxygen, and continuously purify the air.
That does not mean we can just bring plants and animals to space and start agricultural operations there. There are a few challenges we must overcome first. These include:
- Reduced gravity creates health problems in both humans, plants, and animals
- Lighting conditions vary widely in space. Some places such as Mars receive less solar radiation than Earth, while others such as the moon receive more.
- Most places in space do not have Earth’s natural barriers against harmful radiation from the sun and cosmic rays
Employment Opportunities in SpaceTech
The job market for the SpaceTech industry can be broken down into three main areas for startup companies, according to CB Insights:
- exploration, with the focus on natural resources, consumer tourism, and interplanetary endeavors
- orbit, encompassing R&D and satellite constellation operations, and finally
- launch & downstream, with startups conquering space concerned with communications & tracking, spacecraft design, launch craft providers, and the ubiquitous data analytics.
You can find more detailed information on the areas in our SpaceTech industry highlights article series in the News section.
SpaceTech is an ever-expanding industry (with an ever-growing number of startups), but it is also not a single field of employment. The term encompasses a wide range of technologies, methods, and techniques. Because of this, you can call yourself a space technician if any part of your job revolves around something space-related or uses something developed for use in space. You do not need to be in rocket science either. Everything from robotics to aviation to computers to FoodTech can fall under the SpaceTech umbrella.
There are a few dedicated SpaceTech education programs. Most of these programs are engineering programs that combined aerospace engineering with business administration such as this Masters of Engineering from the Graz University of Technology. These programs give graduates comprehensive, multi-disciplinary training on rocket systems, telecommunications, geology, and business engineering.
You can also take the SpaceMaster programs at:
- Luleå University of Technology, Sweden (coordinating university)
- Cranfield University, UK
- Czech Technical University, Czech Republic
- Aalto University, Finland
- Julius-Maximilian Universität Würzburg, Germany
- Université Paul Sabatier Toulouse III, France
- The University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Science, Japan
- Utah State University, USA
Associated are a number of outstanding academic and institutional thought leaders, like the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), EISCAT (European Incoherent Scatter) Scientific Association), as well as Honeywell International s.r.o. and the European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company, Innovation Works Division (EADS).
These universities offer the SpaceMaster degree in association with the European Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. It lets students from around the work to work together on science and technology laboratory and simulation research projects for the European space industry.
We also looked around for some of the best online courses to help prepare you for a career in this field.
Besides these dedicated programs, you can make any university program SpaceTech-related simply by concentrating on courses and skills needed to solve the various challenged facing the space industry when scouting for spacetech jobs. With a SpaceTech degree in hand, you have several options for employment in Europe.
The European space industry may be young, but there is something for everyone who has a desire to promote human ventures in space, and the ESA is dedicated to expanding your options. They recently announced their investment in 500 new European SpaceTech companies. These companies, such as the United Kingdom’s Enbio, come from several industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, sport, and agriculture. With these organizations, you have the option to help develop flying cars, drone delivery services in Portugal, or cold plasma treatments for bacterial infections in Germany.
ESA is also working with companies such as Tecnalia Aerospace to establish entrepreneur workshops to promote innovation and development in such areas as water management and sustainability.
How Can You Help?
SpaceTech development can change an economy. It can turn small-town businesses into international superstars. However, those businesses need the appropriate government resources and policies in place to reach the top. By working with your local government, you can ensure that everyone can reap the rewards of SpaceTech. You could also look into the SpaceTech accelerator ecosystem and see if you can contribute your skills to promote this industry.