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Why the new space race is all about software talent

  • Publish Date: Posted 8 months ago
  • Author: Jon Armstrong

When you think “software engineering”, you might think Silicon Valley. But the term was actually coined by NASA – to be precise, by Margaret Hamilton, lead software designer for the 1960s Apollo mission, who played a key role in getting astronauts safely to the moon and back.

The 1960s space race brought a wave of optimism about human potential; if we could ask for the moon and achieve it, how high could we aim next?

Now we’re on the verge of another giant leap, as New Space – the growing market for private commercial space technology – is taking its first steps into interplanetary travel, asteroid mining and heavy manufacturing in space.

Private companies can now launch their own space programmes with little government intervention, and the better pay, benefits and development opportunities in the private sector are attracting the top talent.

But there’s a shortage of software engineers in the sector, even though they remain as vital to space technology as they were in the days of Margaret Hamilton. Satellite launches, deorbiting, guidance and navigation all rely on software engineers.

Planned satellite constellations need high-quality software to manage precision navigation and control. These satellites travel at over 7 kilometres per second while only kilometres apart; a small error could spell disaster. Space sector leaders are sounding the alarm over the worsening shortage of software talent.

STEM talent is getting pulled in many directions in the current tech talent war, and it’s never been more vital for companies engaged in the space race to stand out and make their employer brands irresistible to software engineers.

According to the UK Space Agency’s Space Sector Skills Survey 2020, 52% of space companies in the UK say they’re short of software engineering talent – the most significant shortfall in the sector – and the vast majority expect hiring to be “somewhat” or “very” difficult.

The situation isn’t much better in the US, where software engineers would rather work for Google than NASA. Countries that fail to close these gaps risk losing their national security advantage in space, making themselves vulnerable to hostile powers. Software engineers are key to both geospatial intelligence gathering and earth observation, which have security implications for both the private and public sectors.

To avoid falling victim to this growing crisis, space technology companies need to work with the right talent partner to reach out to software engineers across industries. There’s a wave of excitement about working in the space industry right now; with our extensive network, we can help you capitalise on it. Get in touch today to discover how you can connect with the talent you need.