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 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

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PhD and masters students

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Overview of the space sector

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 one, employing over 30,000 people in the UK, with an annual turnover in excess of £11 billion.

The sector has nearly trebled in size from the turn of the century, with an average annual growth rate of over 8%. Broadly, the sector can be broken down into:

  • space research – studying and understanding the universe and developing the underlying science that underpins space technology
  • space manufacturing – designing and manufacturing launch vehicles, spacecraft, satellites and other equipment
  • space operations – managing the launch and operation of satellites and their associated technologies and selling or leasing capacity to use these technologies
  • space applications – making use of the capacity provided by satellites, or generated through space research, e.g. satellites television, GPS
  • ancillary services – providing support services to the space sector, e.g. research, consultancy, IT solutions, insurance, financial and legal services

And of course – becoming an astronaut!

A global and regional overview

The global space economy is estimated to be worth up to £190 billion, with key players being the United States, the EU, Russia and Japan.

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.

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 it's business engagement unit, the GNSS Research Applications Centre of Excellence (GRACE).

What's going on in Nottingham?


Using my degree skills 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.

Physics students

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.

Engineering 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.

Other disciplines

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

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).

Employers and further study

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 CareersNebula Space is a space sector-specific recruitment agency.

The below are just a small selection of employers in this sector:

Graduate and placement opportunities

Space research

Space manufacturing

Space operations

Space applications

Ancilliary services


Postgraduate study

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.





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