Something cool is happening in the sustainability sector—we’re starting to think about space technology as a tool to combat climate change. Much like the tech sector, new entrants are disrupting the existing industry, bringing advanced technology and new business models that allow more players to introduce lighter, smarter solutions to space exploration and use improved satellite technology to send better intel on climate change back to Earth. Like other time-honored pairs such as peanut butter and chocolate or cats and lasers, space and sustainability are just better together.
So what might a career in space and sustainability look like? Here’s what I’ve learned about some of the emerging ideas we’re seeing today and how to make this awesome frontier a part of your career.
What Sort of Jobs Are Out There
Just when we thought tech jobs couldn’t get any weirder, space entered the scene. Once again, we see an old guard—think big aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, NASA—getting disrupted by new, scrappy players. This means that while “big space” will still be around, there is a crop of new jobs to be had at smaller organizations, which might appeal to a different set of skills and sensibilities.
These are some of the coolest opportunities I’ve heard about.
Earth Observation: When I attended NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) launch this summer, I learned that we don’t know where most of the carbon in our biosphere goes. NASA, Skybox, and other space tech firms are already helping us learn more about climate change and collect space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 with the precision, resolution, and coverage needed to characterize sources and sinks.
Space Solar Energy: Did you know that solar energy available in space is billions of times greater than the amount we use on Earth today? The fact that we already use solar panels on most spacecraft and other companies are commercializing this for use on Earth means that harvesting clean energy from space is a real option in the future.
Reuseable Spacecraft: SpaceX and innovation darling Elon Musk are redefining the aerospace industry. Because the company’s new generation spacecraft are designed to be used again and again, fewer resources and less energy will be spent on space exploration.
Space Carpooling: Some companies are now carpooling to space. Small players like Lunar Lion, the only university-led team to compete in the Google LunarX Prize, are hitching rides into space instead of building their own launch vehicle. Just like carpooling to work, piggybacking spacecraft save resources and fuel.
How to Enter This Field
The first suggestion for getting a job in this field? Move fast. With spacetech investment skyrocketing (pun intended), “newspace” jobs will fill up fast in the next year or two. Luckily, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably already ahead of the game.
Because it’s a new and relatively small field, getting into sustainable space will be a matter of making connections to those who are already there. Check out the speakers at space conferences and sustainability conferences, or search LinkedIn for people you can reach out to and ask to pick their brains on how they’ve successfully navigated the field.
Just like other hot tech fields, those with degrees and experience in engineering, physics, robotics, and coding will have the best odds of snagging a job in sustainable space. If you don’t have a background in STEM, you might consider entering the business development, marketing, or communications side of space. Communicating the value of new space technologies will be important to bring these ideas to commercial scale.
And of course, you can always create your own mission—this area is still new enough that not all of the ideas are taken. If you have the technical skills and the appetite for blazing your own trail, consider starting your own sustainable space venture. Some inspirational early-stage sustainable space companies include zero2infinity, a space tourism venture, and Made In Space, 3-D printing in the outer limits.
As for the future of sustainable space? Don’t be afraid to chart your own path. As Herman Melville reminds us, “It’s not down on any map. True places never are.”