6 space careers that don’t involve leaving Earth

Vanessa Zepeda
QUT PhD student Vanessa Zepeda's career goal is to one day be a NASA mission scientist helping to look for life in the oceans of Jupiter and Saturn’s icy moons, Europa and Enceladus. Image: Ben Ashmole

If jetting off on real-life missions isn’t for you, there are a stack of space careers that don’t require trips to Mars and not touching the ground for months on end

To celebrate Global Astronomy Month (April) Here are six gigs that involve working with – but not in – our wider solar system. Just don’t expect the cool suits and space food.

1. Software developer

Skilled in computer science but passionate about aero science? This gig involves developing and maintaining complex operating systems used by both astronauts and space flight controllers. Career progression usually involves a stint in general software developing or programming before moving on to working for a space-centric company – like Skytek – contracted by one of the major space stations.

Study: Bachelor of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), University of Western Sydney

2. Satellite engineer

Due to cheaper technologies and a boom in private space industry funding, there are a growing number of jobs in designing and building satellites and sensors used in orbit. Although satellites might be built to sit in space, the data they collect and zap back down to earth is designed to help other industries too. Collecting info on the state of soil in a particular area, pollution levels or water temperatures for instance can be invaluable data for environmental scientists or those in agriculture fields.

Study: Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronic), UNSW

3. Space flight controller

Judging by their job titles, you’d think these guys would be up in the air piloting missions, but in actual fact they’re all about supporting the onboard crew form the ground. Their daily to-do list includes assisting astronauts in space with literally everything – from day-to-day activities like exercise to important data collection missions and scientific experiments. They act as a communication channel between the crew, flight director and various specialists on the ground, and know the schedules of the in-flight crew, before they do.

Study: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), University of Sydney

Space flight controllers spend a lot of time on the ground, communicating with crews in space. Image: Shutterstock

4. Satellite controller

Like an air-traffic controller, these guys work around the clock to make sure that certain satellites stick to their allotted bits of space. GEO communication satellites are used by all the major telecommunication companies, so employment opportunities pop up at all the major phone and internet companies (think: Telstra and Optus).

Study: Master of Space Engineering, UNSW Canberra

5. Atmospheric scientist

A bit like a meteorologist, atmospheric scientists are employed to observe the weather and climate conditions going down in space. They prep forecasts from data gathered by satellite images, weather balloons and radar systems and study atmospheric phenomena like the Northern Lights and significant trade winds. They contribute to mainstream weather channels as well as assisting space stations re-the conditions of their missions.

Study: Bachelor of Science, Monash University

6. Astrophysicist

This traditionally lab-based gig applies the laws of physics and chemistry to explain what the heck is going on with the solar system – from stars to nebulae, plants and other galaxies! According to NASA, it’s about “discovering how the universe works, exploring how it began and searching for life on other planets and stars.” These guys are often found working in research departments at major universities, and at space stations alongside flight controllers to ensure the correct data is gathered for their research.

Study: Master of Science, Astronomy, Swinburne University

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Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital editor, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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