For many people, a career in the space industry means the exciting job of becoming an astronaut and making trips to outer space. However, this futuristic sector contains a lot more opportunities for people than just astronauts.
This industry is dominated by scientists and engineers who want to play a part in the growing space science and technology sector. On offer is a vast array of opportunities that cover many different specialist disciplines. Behind the scenes, there are also substantial numbers of managers, administrators and technical service staff.
Science and Engineering
Science and Engineering roles in the space industry cover a wide range of specialisations, for example, mechanical, electrical, communications and systems engineers. Mechanical and materials engineers develop the hardware required for space science and exploration. This would include the equipment and technology needed.
Electronic or systems engineers develop the software that is essential to run this equipment and ensure that they are working correctly. Mathematics is at the core of a number of roles, especially in the analysis of the large amounts of data produced by space instruments and in calculating the orbits of space vehicles.
Management and Administration
Managers in the space sector generally have a background in engineering, business, law, economics or science. Their roles can include mission research and development, project management, operations management, and scientific coordination. Administration support staff are also required in all businesses, and their job is to assist in the running of projects.
Ireland is a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) and has a large role to play in the space programmes of Europe. Irish companies take part in numerous European wide space programmes involving all areas of space science and technology.
In Ireland, the space sector employs over 1,000 people and this is expected to increase with the number of companies in the Irish space market likely to grow in the coming years. The space industry is surprisingly one of the few industries in Ireland which is growing, despite the present economic circumstances.
The ESA along with partner Irish companies provide opportunities to work in the space sector. Some of the areas in which career prospects reside are:
- Space Science
This is concerned with the areas of astrophysics and planetary and space science. Astrophysics is related to astronomy and it focuses on the physics of the universe. It involves studying the planets, stars, moons and other celestial objects in order to understand the universe and make new discoveries.
- Earth Observation and Environmental Science
This revolves around gaining a better understanding of the earth, its composition, how it functions, and the effects that human behaviour can cause. Integral to this area is looking at the effects of climate change, pollution, the over-use of our natural resources, and how these issues can be tackled. Scientists would work in areas such as atmospheric science, environmental chemistry, ecology, and geosciences.
- Life Sciences
The study of plants, human beings, animals and other living organisms, make up what is known as the life sciences. Based around the subject of biology, the life sciences strive to find a better understanding of living things both on earth and possibly beyond.
- Space Technology
Space Technology develops the tools and equipment that are required to explore the far reaches of the universe. For example, spacecraft structures, mechanisms, spacecraft and launcher propulsion, thermal control technology, environment control, life support technology, robotics and optics. All of these developments bring together a diverse range of skills and qualifications.
- Applied Mathematics and Data Processing
This utilises the skill of mathematical analysis in a practical environment, to identify problems and engineer solutions in the space programme development. This is necessary to support the work of the other divisions to ensure the smooth running of every project.
All of the above areas demonstrate that there are many specialised fields in which a person who is interested in the space industry can embark on, and have an exciting and challenging career.
Getting into the Space Industry
The majority of employees working in this field have an undergraduate degree, and many have studied at postgraduate level. Typically, workers have engineering or science backgrounds, but a qualification in areas such as maths, law or business is also desired.
The space sector is a technology intensive industry, and the work that is carried out is highly specialised. Companies in Ireland are involved in the areas of electronics, aerospace, structures, materials, hardware, software, etc, all of which are integral components needed for space programmes.
Outlook for the future in Ireland
Ireland currently has a flourishing space sector as a result of the ESA contracts that companies here have successfully secured, and are continuing to do so. Enterprise Ireland provides companies with a dedicated support service to assist them in bidding for ESA programmes.
This industry seems to be bucking the trend of other businesses struggling to survive in the present economic climate. Employment in this sector is also looking bright for the future, as by 2014 it is expected that there will be 1600 people working in this industry in Ireland.