Stellar futures

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Anita Heward looks at what it takes to launch a career in the space industry

There's more to a career in space than being an astronaut. According to the British National Space Centre our space industry employs more than 15,000 people and has an annual turnover of almost pound;3 billion. As most space missions are international collaborations, a career in the field also gives opportunities to travel or work abroad. The UK does not fund manned space flight, so your chances of becoming an astronaut are very small. However, space data has applications in many fields, so whether you see your future in the stars or want something a bit more down to Earth, there is a job in space for you.

Employers in the space industry will be looking for a degree in a relevant subject, although for research jobs you will need at least a master of science or a doctorate.

If you are interested in the environment, then a career in Earth observation might be for you. Satellites in orbit around the Earth send back a constant stream of information about our environment. Earth observation scientists interpret the data, try to predict how the environment is changing and why. Possible employers include the Met Office, oil companies and research establishments.

If you are good at biology, you could become an exobiologist. These scientists look for life in some of Earth's most extreme environments and try to work out where else in the solar system life might be able to survive.

If geology is a subject you're good at then you could work as a planetary scientist and study the geological history of the planets in our solar system.

You could become a software engineer for a space company if you like computers. Software controls every area of a space mission, from communicating with a spacecraft in orbit to getting the on board instrumentation to work. Potential employers include EADS Astrium and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

You could become a spacecraft engineer if design and technology is your best subject. There are companies based in the UK that build satellites, but many British spacecraft engineers work for the European Space Agency in Holland.

If you are a mathematician and are after something really challenging, you could be an astrophysicist and study the fate of the universe.

If you are interested in astronomy there are plenty of opportunities for using ground and space-based telescopes. Depending on your area of interest you may get to use telescopes in Hawaii, Chile or the Canary Islands.

Anita Heward is director of the British Festival of Space

For more information about careers in space visit

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