Nov 5, 2019

Help wanted on Earth for economy in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A space economy conjures visions of thousands of people living and working in orbit and beyond, but the jobs that will keep the space industry afloat in the coming years will be located on Earth.

The big picture: The space industry could be worth $805 billion by 2030, according to estimates from UBS.

  • UBS predicts that space tourism will account for about a $3 billion slice of the market by then.
  • But the bulk of the economy will depend on Earth-bound workers — satellite operators, data analysts, software engineers and other technicians who will be in high demand as the space industry transitions from a government-dominated realm to an essential, commercial enterprise.

What's happening: Multiple companies are aiming to launch constellations of thousands of satellites to orbit in the coming years and will likely need people on the ground to operate them.

  • A new online course offered by Arizona State University is designed to teach satellite operators to work with these companies and the government.
  • Private companies and the government have brought Qwaltec in to train their satellite operators in the past, but with the expected boom in the market, the company decided to develop a standardized course, Qwaltec CEO Shawn Linam told Axios.
  • The growth expected in the satellite industry could spur manufacturing as well, as thousands of relatively small, inexpensive satellites will be needed for these mega-constellations.

Where it stands: SpaceX has dozens of job openings ranging from rocket engineering to spacesuit sewer in its facilities across the country.

  • Blue Origin along with other, smaller and less high-profile hardware and analysis companies are also looking to hire talent as demand for satellites and their data increases.

But, but, but: The space industry's transition to the future space economy could be overshadowed by an aging workforce.

  • The Space Foundation estimated the U.S. awarded 6% of STEM degrees globally in 2016, while China awarded eight times that.
  • Satellite companies used to pull their talent from the military or broadcast companies, but those pipelines are drying up today, Robert Bell, executive director of Space & Satellite Professionals International, told Axios.
  • Space companies and government agencies are also facing more competition from tech giants, Bell added.
"We've almost flipped from where it was, where you wanted people to retire because you wanted to open up the slots — now, we've got the slots open, but we can't find enough people to fill them."
— Mary Lynne Dittmar, CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

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