The space sector is hugely diverse, encompassing everything from asking the big questions about the origins of the universe, to using satellite data for smartphones apps used in daily life. There are some great opportunities in the East Midlands, wider UK and globally for those interested in any aspect of the sector from pure research to commercial operations.
Nottingham graduates should consider a career in the space sector if they are looking for a diverse range of career possibilities with lots of cross-disciplinary working and opportunities for progression both in the space, and wider science, engineering and technology sectors.
Dr Kierran Shah
National Project Manager, National Space Academy
Spotlight On: NASA
University of Nottingham alumna, Emily Seto, discusses:
- her role with NASA, and
- what lead her down this exciting career path
What areas could I work in?
Space technology is woven into all parts of our lives, from weather forecasts to smartphones and satnavs to satellite television, as well as providing essential communications, navigation, monitoring and research technologies for a broad range of industries.
The space sector is a wide-ranging and fast-growing in terms of employment and income generated. The sector employs over 45,000 people in the UK, has an annual turnover in excess of £16 billion and is investing heavily in research and development.
The sector has nearly trebled in size from the turn of the century, with an of 10% of its Gross Value Added. The number of organisations engaged in space-related activities has increased in the last two years and now account for 1,218 UK-wide with the East and West Midlands seeing a big increase in companies and jobs.
A range of developments are currently taking place in the UK such as through LaunchUK, the UK Space Agency and several international agreements such as UK-Australia Space Bridge and US-UK Technology Safeguard agreement.
Who are the global and regional employers?
The global space economy worth up to around £250 billion, with key players being the United States, the EU, Russia and Japan. It is estimated that it could surge to $1 trillion by 2040 according to Morgan Stanley.
As a truly international industry, there are global opportunities, particularly for people with the right level of specialist skills, knowledge and expertise.
It is worth being aware, however, that some roles and companies in this sector are linked to national defence and security, and are therefore less likely to employ non-native citizens of nations in which they operate.
UK Space Agency
European Space Agency
The sector in the East Midlands is worth £20 million, the majority of which is accounted for by space manufacturing. Leicester in particular is a hub for space-related research and technology, clustered around the University of Leicester, the emerging National Space Park and the National Space Centre.
The University of Nottingham is home to the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, and its business engagement unit, the GNSS Research Applications Centre of Excellence (GRACE). A partnership between The University of Leicester and De Montfort University is also set to build a £13 million Institute of Technology dedicated to space science and digital and cyber technologies.
Leicester is also investing in a £100 million space park which will focus on analysing data sent down from satellites. Aerospace and technology companies such as Hewlett Packard, Airbus and Amazon have already signed up as tenants.
What's going on in Nottingham?
How can I use my degree in this sector?
There are a broad range of opportunities, particularly for those with scientific and technical skills, but also for students from non-technical backgrounds.
You can use your fundamental understanding of the science behind materials, propulsion, signal propagation and processing, gravitational forces and (space) weather systems to contribute to the design, manufacture and effective use of essential components and instruments required for space technology.
If you wish to pursue further academic study and research, you can specialise in areas such as astrophysics and astronomy, or other areas related to the science of space. The Institute of Physics has produced a guide on space technology outlining the range of opportunities for physics students.
Mechanical engineers and aerospace engineers can get involved in the design and manufacture of spacecraft and satellites.
Electronics engineers can help develop complex instruments and components.
Chemical engineers can work on the development of fossil fuels, materials and energy sources.
Computer science and maths students
If you have advanced IT and programming skills, you will be much in demand to create and develop the programmes and applications required by the sector, as will students with mathematical modelling skills and the ability to manage large data sets across a whole range of applications.
Any graduate with the right skills can progress into commercial areas supporting the space industry, such as law, marketing and PR, sales, finance, project management and insurance.
The public interest in space means that there are opportunities in science outreach and communication for those with enthusiasm, knowledge and good communications skills.
Further space-related job profiles can be found on SpaceCareers.uk.
You may also be interested in hearing more from the Space Communications Manager at the National Space Centre in a recent video covering the opportunities out there in science writing and communications (see under Science writing heading).
Where can I find my first role?
71% of employers within the sector are small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). These smaller, more specialist companies can often be found in science and technology parks.
It is also worth looking at membership or company directories on sites such as the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, UK Space or Space Careers. Nebula Space is a space sector-specific recruitment agency.
The below are just a small selection of employers in this sector:
Graduate and placement opportunities
Sources of vacancies
What are my further study options?
It is possible to do masters courses specialising in various aspects of space science and engineering which can help students to develop specialist skills and knowledge to enable them to progress into roles within the sector.
If you are interested in a career in space-related research, a PhD will generally be a minimum entry requirement. There are a range of funded PhDs available in areas such as astrophysics, astronomy, cosmology and extragalactic astronomy, as well as materials and engineering-related subjects.
For further information, visit the Thinking about a PhD section of our website.
If you are a current PhD student, there are a variety of post-doctoral positions, funding and fellowships available through institutions, universities and other organisations.
See, for example, information about research opportunities and funding on the STFC website.