In the 20th century, most people would have considered being an astronaut the number one job related to space. Now, in the 21st century, opportunities to work in the space industry have broadened considerably!
Aotearoa New Zealand has its own space industry that is busy and growing all the time. A number of roles exist that are connected to space in some way, and very few of them involve astronauts. The space industry is involved with:
- what goes up to space – satellites and micro laboratories
- what we can see from space – remote sensing and greenhouse gases
- how to send things to space – rockets and remotely piloted aerospace planes
- how to keep things safe and working in space
- how to get things down from space – digital satellite data and spent rocket parts.
So how do you get a job in the space industry? Where do you start?
Education for space-related careers
Pathways into the space industry vary with each individual. For instance, Peter Beck (Rocket Lab) and Mark Rocket (Kea Aerospace) didn’t go to university but are now leading and innovating in their own space companies.
Many people who work in the aerospace industry think science, technology and mathematics are important subjects to study – even if they found them difficult at times. When Dr Beata Bukosa studied physics at school, she didn’t understand some of it and had to work hard. Her efforts paid off – she’s an atmospheric modeller with the MethaneSAT mission working with lead scientist Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher. Sara, on the other hand, enjoyed writing and art more than science, but today, she uses ground and satellite technology to observe greenhouse gases. Sometimes attitude and curiosity are just as important as good grades!
There are other pathways, too. Studying languages helps us think about the world in different ways. For instance, Dr Pauline Harris talks about what happens at the interface of science and mātauranga Māori with the work she does as an astrophysicist, cosmologist and kairangahau Māori at the University of Wellington.
Jennifer Blackburne earned a tennis scholarship, which took her to university to study mechanical engineering. Experience in coding with Scratch helped Juliet McLachlan understand the computational thinking that led to her work as a flight operations software engineer. Juliet also enjoyed art, design and music at school.
Attitudes and dispositions
People working in the space industry have identified attitudes and dispositions they find useful, including:
- being curious and asking questions about how and why things work
- being a self-starter and proactive
- being co-operative and collaborative
- having creativity to think outside the box
- being a logical thinker
- having persistence and resilience when things get tough
- enjoying building things by hand or on a computer
- enjoying attending clubs, networks and events about space.
Do you recognise any of these dispositions in yourself? They aren’t limited to what you do at school. They can apply to sports and hobbies too!
People working in space-related jobs might begin their careers anywhere, such as in teaching or photography or working with maps, and later move into a job related to space. Alternatively, they might start in an industry that already has some connections with space such as working with radar or software engineering and keep moving further into space-related roles.
The experts who appear in the video below are a small representation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s aerospace sector, but they’ve had a huge variety of jobs, hobbies and interests! Former and current jobs include:
- air traffic controller
- biodiversity scientist
- communications technologist
- data analyst
- educational resource developer
- electrical engineer
- map maker
- mechanical engineer
- satellite engineer
- software engineer
- television producer
- user interface designer
The New Zealand Space Agency is Aotearoa New Zealand’s lead government agency for space sector development. It notes that there are lots of other jobs beyond science, engineering and technology. The space industry also needs people with skills in communications, ethics and law. Most importantly, young people need to be ready to take on the challenge of doing jobs that don’t even exist at the moment!
Meet some other scientists whose work intersects with the space sector:
- Dr Allan McInnes is an electrical and electronics engineer who worked on the B-2 stealth bomber and the Mars exploration rovers.
- Dr Wolfgang Rack and Dr Adrian McDonald both use satellites in their icy fieldwork in Antarctica.
- Kelvin Barnsdale’s expertise in radio frequencies and electronics led to work on Space Shuttle missions and designing GPS systems.
- Warwick Holmes is an avionics systems engineer who helped to build, test and launch the Rosetta spacecraft.
- Avinash Rao spent 6 years at Rocket Lab and became CEO at Argo Navis Aerospace.
Our collection Working in the space sector curates resources highlighting the diversity of roles that exist in New Zealand's growing place in space – whether it is a space-related job or deepening the understand of tātai arorangi.
Can I work in the space industry? fosters blue-sky thinking about how and where tamariki and rangatahi might see themselves in the space industry.
Get a taste of some types of thinking that happens in the space sector:
- Creating a space treaty – for writers, thinkers and future policy developers
- Making digital space debris clean-up games – for software engineers and computer scientists
- Interpreting observations from satellite images – for people interested in looking after te taiao
- Validating remote sensing observations – for modellers and computer scientists
Get a taste of engineering, building things and problem solving:
This resource has been produced with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the support of the New Zealand Space Agency.