Investing in Space

Investing in Space: Houston, we have job openings

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance launches the Crew-5 mission for NASA from Florida on Oct. 5, 2022.
Joel Kowsky | NASA

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Overview: Houston, we have job openings

In an increasingly tight labor market, the space sector is hiring. (Don't get too excited, the jobs are still Earth-bound.) 

There are nearly 8,400 openings at "infrastructure" space companies, the likes of which build and operate rockets and spacecraft, according to venture firm Space Capital and its Space Talent database

A lot of the new hires, according to Justus Kilian, partner at Space Capital, come from the tech sector, which has seen hiring freezes and job cuts as companies brace for economic downturn. 

"You actually see talent floating around, because their skills are so transferable. They're going to each of these different industries, job after job, and just following each other working on the biggest, most exciting, most complicated problems," Kilian said.

Last week, Astra announced the appointment of new CFO Axel Martinez, with the company's current finance chief Kelyn Brannon transitioning out of the role later this year. Both Martinez and Brannon come from tech backgrounds. 

But Kilian says the space sector often falls short in the competitive talent pool on vision and compensation. Space companies are often led by technical people "fixated on the technical problem" and lacking the ability to inspire, he said. And salary levels at big tech, robotics, autonomous vehicles, motorsports and telecommunications are hard to match.

"You're not competing with Google on salary – you just can't," Kilian said. "You've got to be inspiring people around the thing they're building and why it matters."

There are regulatory hurdles in the U.S. space sector, too. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, essentially mean only American citizens, or foreigners with a green card, can access items on the U.S. Munitions List. That list mostly includes defense-related equipment and software, but widely covers rocket and spacecraft technologies, too.

While difficult to measure precisely how many jobs are ITAR-restricted, Kilian used SpaceX as a proxy and found that, of 977 roles listed by the company, 348 mentioned ITAR in the description – or about 36%.

"Our best talent is foreign talent. Tech eats that up; aerospace loses because it can't recruit," Kilian said.

What's up

  • SpaceX launches eighth human spaceflight with latest NASA mission. The company maintained a steady pace of astronaut launches with the Crew-5 mission and has now sent 30 people to orbit in the past 28 months. - CNBC
  • Firefly Aerospace reaches orbit on second launch attempt. After a tumultuous past year, Firefly is just the fifth U.S. rocket builder to achieve the feat in the past 15 years. Firefly CEO Bill Weber said its Alpha rocket fills "a business case that is just screaming to be addressed" in the "medium-lift" segment of the launch market. - CNBC
  • SES is closer to a near $4 billion FCC payout, after ULA launched a pair of satellites that will help SES clear telecommunications bandwidth for terrestrial companies' 5G networks. - SpaceNews
  • NASA and SpaceX studying the possibility of a low-cost private mission to the Hubble telescope: Alongside the SpaceX side of the agreement is Jared Isaacman's Polaris Program. The study aims to evaluate if a Dragon capsule could dock with the telescope and change its orbit in an effort to further its lifetime. - CNBC
  • Alternative rocket builder SpinLaunch completes 10th flight test with its one-third scale system. The company continues to develop its vacuum chamber mass accelerator, and on its most recent flight included four small payloads from NASA, Airbus, Cornell Engineering and Outpost. - SpinLaunch
  • NASA assigns two astronauts to Boeing's first operational Starliner mission, which will follow the crew flight test planned for February. NASA's Scott Tingle and Mike Fincke will be the Starliner-1 commander and pilot, respectively, and join mission specialist Jeanette Epps and a fourth astronaut yet to be named. - NASA

Industry Maneuvers

  • York Space sells majority stake to private equity firm AEI at over $1 billion valuation, making the spacecraft manufacturer the latest space unicorn. AEI's investment, a 51% equity stake, was joined by BlackRock's private equity arm. - CNBC
  • Redwire acquiring Belgian company, backed by AEI. The space infrastructure company announced a deal to acquire QinetiQ Space NV, a subsidiary of U.K. defense contractor QinetiQ, for 32 million euros. In a securities filing, Redwire disclosed that a fund of private equity firm AE Industrial is backing the deal with up to $40 million of equity financing committed. - Redwire / SEC
  • Sierra Space hires former SpaceX executive Ken Venner as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. Venner most recently was the president of enterprise software company e-Share, and before that spent over six years as CIO at SpaceX. - Sierra Space
  • Ball Aerospace wins $176 million contract from Pentagon's Space Development Agency to build and run 10 experimental satellites, launching in two years. - SpaceNews
  • Viasat's acquisition of Inmarsat picks up regulatory scrutiny, as the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the combination of two of the largest satellite communications companies would reduce competition, especially the in-flight WiFi market. In response, Viasat said it will work with CMA to show the deal will "benefit customers." - CMA / Viasat
  • Firefly and Boeing's Millennium win Space Force contract to perform a rapid response mission in 2023. - Firefly / Millennium
  • Voyager Space names Marshall Smith as vice president of exploration. Smith joins Voyager from its operating company Nanoracks. Before that he held multiple senior roles at NASA, ranging from human spaceflight to systems development. - Voyager

Market Movers

  • Viasat shares surged 34% week-to-date after announcing the sale of its military communications unit "Link 16 Tactical Data Links (TDL)" to defense giant L3Harris for near $2 billion. - CNBC

On the horizon

  • Oct. 6 - SpaceX's Falcon 9 launching Intelsat satellites Galaxy 33 and Galaxy 34 from Florida.
  • Oct. 7 - Rocket Lab's Electron launching GAzelle satellite for General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems from New Zealand.