Space technology is a vital part of our life. Observing and exploring our universe helps us to find solutions to problems on earth and aids our understanding of the origins of life. Satellites drive change across the world, playing an integral role in our daily lives: they synchronise banking transactions, improve crop yields, monitor climate change, keep us in touch through the TV, mobile phone, weather forecasting and satellite navigation, immune to disturbance by ground-based emergencies and therefore play an important role providing information for humanitarian relief missions. And they run on sunlight!
Space missions are in two parts: the space segment (the space vehicle itself such as a satellite or explorer) or the ground segment (the ground control system and the instrument data handling). Space vehicles are launched into space by rockets. Space engineers with specialist skills, such as structures, thermal, power, electrical, orbital mechanics or data handling, working in teams with systems engineers, who have an overview role. In addition, skills such as software development and operations management are needed to support the mission, often working with organisations from all over the world.
Space engineers need a strong background in science or engineering. Many roles require a relevant engineering degree such as electrical, mechanical or aeronautics and specialist space subjects are also available. Mathematicians and physicists also play an important role in research and design. Technician posts exist in many of the space engineering area, often in a support capacity to large engineering projects or spacecraft operations, with apprenticeships available.
Experiments in space are used to help scientists on earth discover more about humans. The chances of becoming an astronaut may be minute, but note that many astronauts start from a technical, often engineering, background, moving into test pilot training or gaining access to astronaut programmes through their specialist knowledge.
UK Space Industry
Think it’s only in the USA and Russia where the space stuff happens? Think again! The UK is a key player in the satellite market, providing many of the world’s most advanced satellites.
Space is in fact one of the UK’s most innovative and competitive sectors, worth around £7 billion a year and supporting 70,000 jobs:
• Investing £300 million a year in R&D, 12% of manufacturing turnover, in the top league for R&D intensity.
• Employing over 60% graduates, double the national average – the highest skilled workforce in UK manufacturing.
• Growing at 12.5% a year, four times UK economic growth.
• Winning 7.3% of a global market that is growing faster than China, forecast to be worth over $1 trillion by 2020.
The recently formed UK Space Agency is also helping to enhance this leading position for future space programmes.
Tomorrow, we will live in a space enabled world, where our quality of life, our national competitiveness and our public services will all depend on the satellite infrastructure high above us, and on the continued success of our own world-class space industry. And at a day-to-day level, space is reshaping our whole landscape, from road user charging to criminal tagging to broadband for our rural communities.
Furthermore, as the quest for viable space tourism comes closer to fruition with companies such as Scaled Composites providing viable, re-usable spacecraft to the UK-owned space ‘operator’ Virgin Galactic, more and more ordinary (well, quite rich) people will have the chance to become ‘space tourists’ taking a holiday in space – you could help develop the travel industry of the future and perhaps even join them in human spaceflight!
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