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Astrophysics & Space Technology

Why get into astrophysics & space technology?

Astrophysics and the space technology industry offer some of the best career paths for physics, mathematics, engineering and computer science graduates who are seeking a professional career, whilst still maintaining contact with advanced scientific concepts. This industry also gives its employees the opportunity to become intrinsically involved in some of the most exciting and ambitious projects ever conceived by mankind.

What options exist within astrophysics & space technology?

The career paths in astrophysics and space technology can roughly be split into three areas:

  • Scientific
  • Technological
  • Operational.

Scientific positions will often be available in governmental or transnational space agencies. These opportunities are available in various specialist areas, including astrophysical and cosmological data analysis, mission conception, mission control, astronautical programmes and advanced concept development. These institutions will also have close links to universities that will often conduct complimentary research and design instrumentation for scientific missions. On the technology side of things, both small innovative companies and transnational industrial giants will design and construct all manner of spacecraft and associated ground systems. The people who work in these departments get involved throughout the complete lifecycle of a mission, from initial feasibility studies, through design, manufacture and launch and finally to eventual decommissioning and disposal.

The variety of spacecraft that these guys might be working on can be incredibly broad and may include: telecommunication satellites, Earth observation systems for disaster response and climate change monitoring, and bespoke extra-terrestrial probes and rover vehicles.

Professional space careers on the operations side of things are also incredibly important. A number of companies exist purely to operate satellites, lease bandwidth and sell data to other companies. These companies will also handle the day-to-day attitude and orbit control of the spacecraft, as well as more unconventional instances such as collision avoidance.

What jobs can I do in the astrophysics & space science sector?

The roles within the space industry are as varied as the missions themselves. Positions for governmental space agencies typically involve identification of key scientific objectives, and mission planning and management. Positions may also include less scientific elements, such as managing the transnational distribution of research grants and space policy and law.

In space technology institutions, the focus is really on the detailed design and execution of mission concepts. Research and development roles are often split into architect and analyst positions, with architects defining the complex infrastructure of a system and analysts undertaking the in-depth analysis and development of individual areas, including:

  • Structural and stress engineering
  • Guidance and navigation control systems
  • Thermal engineering
  • Mechanisms
  • Antennae and telecoms
  • Power system
  • Full system-level simulators.

At the manufacturing level, the focus is on spacecraft assembly and testing.

The space industry is truly a world leader in transnational cooperation, as only the smallest companies in this industry will operate solely out of one country. The workforce in any relevant organisation tends to be exceptionally diverse, as companies tend to recruit the top graduates from academic institutions all over the world.

Large and complex missions regularly require many disparate companies from across the globe to work together. This collaborative work is then overseen by governmental agencies. Careers in the space industry therefore provide excellent opportunities for travel and give you the chance to experience new cultures, both professionally and socially.

And finally, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be a rocket scientist?!

Written by Tom Stuttard
Engineer currently working on the European ExoMars Project