Ready for Liftoff: Who Really Did the Work to Launch Tycoons into Space?
Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos may be flying high in the news for their recent trips to space, but the important questions for recruiters and job hunters is, “What are those space-related technical, scientific and skilled labor jobs, where are they located and how much do they pay?”
Is the Commercial Space Business a Viable Employment Option?
In 2004, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act legalized private space flight. Private companies were granted permission to begin research for launching their own spacecraft independent of NASA, giving investors the boost they needed to pursue this business opportunity.
From a single commercial launch in 2011 and 39 in 2020, on May 22, 2021, the U.S. reached a milestone of 400 licensed commercial space launches. Eight more launches occurred between May 22 and July 20, 2021:
- 4 in Florida – Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX)
- 2 in California – one each by Orbital Sciences and Virgin Orbit
- 1 in New Mexico – Virgin Galactic
- 1 in Texas – Blue Origin
With private investment and governmental support behind U.S. commercial space endeavors, activity is growing quickly in two major areas:
Launching payloads into space for commercial, government and private customers – U.S. launch providers flew 44 missions in 2020 to place payloads in Earth orbit or deep space, with 40 successes, more than any other nation. SpaceX led all launch companies in 2020.
Space travel and tourism – Blue Origin received a high bid of $28 million at auction for a seat aboard their New Shepard rocket trip to the edge of space on July 20. With Branson’s company Virgin Galactic receiving FAA approval to begin commercial space travel, it expects to begin commercial operations in 2022. The company has already pre-sold more than 600 tickets with prices topping out at $250K each.
Who and Where are the Major U.S. Employers?
Let’s take a look at some of the major U.S. companies exclusively in this business, where they’re located and the jobs required to make these launches successful. We include SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA (United Launch Alliance - Boeing & Lockheed Martin), Virgin Galactic, Relativity Space and Rocket Lab.
The estimated 18,387 employees of these six well-known companies are generally quite well paid, with these “rocket scientists” earning on average well over $100,000 per year. The map above provides a visual on their locations.
What Do the Jobs and Salaries Look Like?
These companies have a need for employees across the expected span of departments to support the work of a typical organization, including Human Resources, Facilities Management, Accounting, Marketing and Legal in addition to the highly specialized engineering and launch-related roles central to their success. Here is a sample list of job titles pulled from LaborIQ® and the companies’ career pages.
- Systems Engineer
- Electrical Engineer
- CAD Drafter
- RF Engineer
- Environmental Engineer
- Talent Acquisition Specialist
- Customer Support Associate
- Information Security Analyst
- Launch Engineer
- Manufacturing Engineer
- Space Suit Sewer
- Space Suit Engineer
- Medical Engineer
- Financial Analyst
- Software Architect
- Human Resources Business Partner
- Robotics Machining Engineer
- Propulsion Fluid Analyst
- 3D Printing Technician
- Avionics Systems Engineer
- Contract Manager
- Human Factors Engineer
- Biomedical Technician
- Risk Manager
- Process Engineer
- Material Sciences Engineer
In general, the engineering and technical jobs favor avionics and space project experience versus advanced degrees, based on the job descriptions. As summarized below, engineering roles typically require a bachelor's degree and two or more years of specialty experience. Technician and customer support roles require a high school diploma or associate degree with two or more years of experience.
Here are 17 openings recently posted by these space companies that capture a cross-section of job titles across five employer locations. These range from Cape Launch Site Director in Florida to Orbital Tube Welder in Texas. The recommended competitive salary for each job is based on location, required education and experience for the Aerospace Products and Parts Manufacturing industry, as provided by the LaborIQ talent intelligence solution.
This equates to an average salary of $122,224. Applied across the estimated 18,387 employees of the six companies, that comes in at an economy-impacting $2,241,221,488 – more than $2 billion annually. These companies are preparing for growth based on open job requisitions on their websites seeking full-time and contract staff across experience levels.
The commercial space business is small compared to many others but offers exciting job opportunities and growth for the labor force. Sending critical cargo and people to space requires smart people with specialty experience. These future-focused companies also offer career entry paths through internships in both business and technology as well as entry-level engineering career development.
Jobs in the aerospace industry typically pay well, beyond the national average for a role, and commercial space business is poised for a compound annual growth rate of 5.6%. With growth of this velocity, these companies and any new startups will continue to add new jobs and opportunities in the markets where they operate.