Going from Government or Military to Space Startups

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The Space Shuttle program via NASA.gov

There have been a few articles lately, such as this one from Bloomberg, correctly noting the rise of private sector space startups.  Companies like PocketQube, Axelspace Corp., Skybox, Planet Labs, UrtheCast, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic are all moving to become players in the “New Space” arena.  All are poising themselves for Space 2.0 While SpaceX and Virgin Galactic deal with building new generations of rockets, the others are just as busy in the world of building small satellites (SmallSats).  Two of these smallsat companies work south of San Francisco.  Urthecast is in Vancouver, British Columbia.  And PocketQube is in Ireland.

The advent of the CubeSat, smallsat, or micro-sat shouldn’t be surprising.  Amazingly capable little Earth orbiters, available for very little money (especially when compared to the “Cadillac” offerings of Lockheed-Martin or Northrop Grumman) are prominent and central to many of these startups’ plans.

Just as appealing for many curious customers is the flexibility offered by these startups.  Some, such as PocketQube and Planet Labs, offer nearly custom designs.  A customer can basically request whatever kind of payload that’s possible to mount on the tiny satellite bus.  The limitation would probably be just the size of the payload and power requirements.

Planet Labs, in particular, one-ups the offerings of their competitors.  They are launching satellite constellations into orbit.  Planet Labs has named these constellations “Flocks.”  Imagine eventually orbiting small, crosslinked satellites.  The first Flock should be launched soon.  There’s a lot of potential to do some very interesting things very inexpensively.  Small SARSats, anyone?  Maybe in “compound eye” formation?

With all these space startups coming forward, there should be a big need for space operations expertise.  There should be an explosion of space-related job positions. Which is good news for those in the defense and aerospace industry who are weathering recent contractions in government space spending.

But are experienced military space operators “New Space” qualified?  This new generation of companies, like SpaceX, do list positions such as Mission Managers.  But they also have very stringent hiring requirements, including the need for an engineering degree.  Experienced space professionals with that History or Business Management degree (very common for veterans), while having a lot of great skills to offer, are left out in the cold.

Some of these “New Space” companies also seem to have problems with hiring people who worked in a government job.  I was told by one recruiter that prior hires from government had difficulty adjusting to the fast pace of the company.  The recruiter didn’t say the company wouldn’t hire veterans (which would be illegal), but it was an interesting perspective to hear.  Veterans have a natural entrepreneurial bent, and being lumped into a generalization about government employees and office pace is never a good sign. But just because there are obstacles, that doesn’t mean qualified veterans or former government employees shouldn’t apply. Important tip when applying for these positions – make sure you have a tailored resume that points to your flexibility, ingenuity and ability to adapt.

John Holst’s career path is as nonsensical and mad as the March Hare. In a series of what John thought were very trusting decisions, the United States Air Force let him babysit nuclear weapons, develop future officers, and then operate multi-billion dollar space systems. Then John re-enacted scenes from “Brazil” by joining the Missile Defense Agency, working as minutes-taker, configuration, project, mission, and test manager. When he’s not writing for Clearancejobs.com, he is putting his journalism degree skills to use as The Mad Spaceball.

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