What Exactly Is A Space Professional?
By Joseph Horvath, Nova Space CEO
As the space industry continues to develop, there is an increasing usage of the term “space professional”. But what does that really mean? Or better yet, what should it mean to the industry?
Mature industries often develop coherent career paths, specialties, and standards which lead to the development of defined occupational roles. Common dictionary definitions say, “A professional is a member of a profession or any person who works in a specified professional activity.” According to IEEE, the term also “describes the standards of education that prepare members of the profession with the particular skills necessary to perform their specific role.”
Identifying the standards of education, training, knowledge, and skills necessary to be considered a professional within the Space Industry becomes more complicated than some other industries due to the broad and cross-functional nature of Space as a domain. For example, space operations and astronautics encompasses everything from Satellite Communications, Remote Sensing, Weather, PNT, Launch, Science, Tourism and more.
Traditionally a Space Professional title would likely be attributed to engineers and rocket scientists, designing and building satellites or rockets, but as Space becomes a true commercial endeavor a single definition becomes more challenging.
Another consideration is the fact that many Space operational areas and industry segments are siloed. Someone could spend an entire career focused on one small aspect of the space industry but lack necessary knowledge or experience across the breadth of space skills due to the previously mentioned cross-functional nature.
- Is a recruiter working for a company that does satellite communications considered a “space professional?
- How about someone who designs the optics that get attached to a sensor for remote sensing?
- A lawyer that advises a launch company on intellectual property, compliance and regulatory issues?
- How about the janitorial staff of a company building solar panels for space vehicles?
We can probably all agree the last example doesn’t meet the criteria, but where is the line drawn? Based on the currently used definition it could include all or none of these.
Taking the above-described positions; can that recruiter understand the client needs when they are seeking a RF engineer to design antennae if the recruiter knows little to nothing about RF and EM theory? Should a lawyer be supporting a launch company with regulatory and compliance oversight if they do not understand what delta-V, orbital inclination, or the effects of launch latitude are on both of these variables?
An argument can be made that there is a difference between a “Space Professional” and staff supporting a space-focused company. Simply put, working at a space company does not make someone a space professional. This is not meant to downplay the contribution of the entire space workforce to achieving the goals of the space community, but rather to highlight the need for defined professional standards that can be used to educate, train, and develop the skillsets necessary of those who seek to earn the title of “Space Professional.”
A Space Professional must demonstrate mastery of fundamental space operations and astronautics knowledge to satisfactorily communicate, contribute, and lead across the breadth of functional and operational Space areas.
Fundamental topics should, at a minimum, include a standardized baseline of knowledge regarding:
- orbital mechanics
- space environment
- satellite design and manufacturing
- remote sensing
- satellite communications
- launch & propulsion
- basic spacecraft sub-systems
- law, policy, & current event topics
Specialization can, and should occur, but the basic common language across the identified areas become the hallmark of the “Space Professional.”
In doing so, a Space Professional demonstrates a mastery of foundational space knowledge, a commitment to life-long learning within the profession, and the ability to act with confidence across space mission or design areas, regardless of specialty.
As the global Space Industry continues to grow, it is imperative that the community begin standardizing knowledge, skills, and performances in support of recognized titles. Tying standards to broadly validated needs and requirements across the industry, both commercial and government related, provides a pathway for scaled and accessible education, training, and holistic workforce development. While technology and capabilities may be the inspiration for the current growth across the space ecosystem, people do the work.