How much $$$ in space jobs and other FAQ

Key Points

  • In 2022, most engineers make between about $80,000 and $160,000 a year. Your experience, the part of the country you work in, and the company are all factors.

  • The most in-demand employees are electrical engineers and programmers. Next are communication and thermal engineers, but different companies have different needs. Recruiters are the surprise need in the industry, with far too few available to help.

  • If you’re an engineer, you’ll almost certainly need a Bachelor’s degree. However, that’s becoming less true, especially for programmers with experience.

  • There are plenty of jobs that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree. The industry has many support jobs waiting to be filled.


The space industry is looking for thousands of new employees. In fact, SpaceX and Blue Origin by themselves are looking for a couple of thousand people.

If you’re looking for a job that wants you to be creative, to keep learning, and to push the boundaries of exploration then this may be the industry for you. I think you will too if you find the right place to work. 

I’ve done a lot of hiring and a lot of resume reviews. In this article, I’ll cover the questions I’ve heard the most.


How much do aerospace engineers make?

The short answer for engineers is $80,000 to about $160,000 a year for most people working at traditional, non-government aerospace companies. If you work for the government, you’ll make less but you’ll work fewer hours in a more stable environment. If you work for a startup, you can be paid more or less depending on the company, but either way, you typically get potentially lucrative stock options. 

If you’ve been in the industry for a couple of decades with a few missions worth of experience, you can expect to make closer to $200,000 a year, and very senior staff can make around $250,000 a year or more.

It’s worth pointing out that some engineers make more than others. Embedded system developers and programmers make more than just about anybody, sometimes $20K to $30K more. System Engineers, especially leadership, tend to make about $10K to $20K more than others. All the other disciplines (such as mechanical, thermal, and structures) all make about the same amount, although market forces of supply and demand sometimes bump salaries up.

If you are not an engineer then the answer is “it depends on what you are doing”. Technicians, machinists, admins, outreach coordinators, and other support staff make between $45,000 to $70,000 in most companies, although some make $100,000 a year or more if they’ve been around for a while and have a great reputation. At the other end of the scale are the program managers, sales teams, and executive leaders. They tend to make $150,000 to $300,000 a year and, of course, for big companies, those numbers go up.

What are the most in-demand skills?

There are three families of engineers and one surprise skill set here.

The most in-demand skillset, by far, are embedded system engineers. This means both the people who create the electronic boards and the programmers who make them work. In fact, I’ve joked that if FPGA programmers asked me for fresh baked cookies every Monday, I’d ask them what flavor they wanted. The challenge is that many of the people who have those skillsets are in-demand in almost every industry. They can make a lot of money anywhere they go.

In early 2022, the next two most in-demand skill sets are a tie between communication and thermal engineers. Communication engineers are the people who understand communication frequencies, antennas, radios, and amplifiers. And thermal engineers are the people who really understand the extreme temperatures in space and how to deal with them.

And the surprise skillset: recruiters! Finding good employees requires knowing what makes for a good employee so the best recruiters have to know the words and phrases and even mindset of the new staff they’re looking for. A lot of companies that would love to hire hundreds of new people are moving slowly because they don’t have the recruiters and human resource staff to move faster.

Do you need a college degree?

For most employers hiring engineers, yes, they want to see a Bachelor’s degree in some sort of technical field. That’s beginning to change, especially for programmers with experience. There’s debate about what it would take to stop requiring a degree. Where a degree has traditionally been important is in creating solutions to problems that have never been solved before. The math and physics training you get in school is hard to get on your own, but it can be done.

However! There are many great jobs in the space industry that do not require degrees. For instance, the people who machine and assemble the hardware are technicians who often have no or only some college experience. Engineers design the systems, but technicians are the ones who get to touch the hardware the most. (In fact, some companies hate it when engineers touch hardware because they don’t get all the same training and certification as the technicians!)

Then there are the human resources, recruiters, facility managers, supply chain teams, sales and marketing teams, admins, accountants, and more who often have degrees but not always. I can say from personal experience that some of the best and brightest people I’ve worked with in these areas did not have a college degree.


Do I need an advanced degree?

Probably not. A Bachelor’s degree is plenty to get you through a rewarding career. A Master’s degree is helpful, though, if you know you want to specialize in something like embedded system design or communications. You can probably make $5,000 to $10,000 more a year and many companies count it as two years of experience. It can also be helpful if you know you want to get into management, but definitely not necessary.

A Ph.D. is definitely not needed unless you want to do two things: be a tenured professor or make it easier to become a chief architect or scientist. Note that there are plenty of people who are associate or teaching professors at colleges. Having a Master’s or even a Bachelor’s with plenty of experience works just fine in those jobs.

Mission and system architects are the people who invent new missions and systems. Being able to call yourself a Doctor helps people buy in quicker to what you’re trying to sell. This same type of logic is helpful for chief scientists. You can do those things without an advanced degree, it’s just easier.


What’s the work-life balance like?

You may have heard that some companies want you to work 70 hours a week and that lots of people burn out in just a year or two. Those companies do exist and they continue to work that way because people love working on things that could change the future of humanity. While people do burn out, there are plenty of people who thrive in those environments.

If you don’t want that, though, rest assured that there are many, many companies where 40 hour weeks are normal and nobody is working the weekend unless there’s a big event like a spacecraft test. Some of these companies even pay overtime to their salaried workers.


Wrapping Up

What questions do you have? Put them in the comments in the YouTube comment section or email us.


Curated Links

    The US government tracks statistics. It’s not the most exciting page, but data is data.

    This one is interesting because their pay levels are lower than most people in the industry would expect. It’s good to have a lower bound, though, so you can understand the whole picture.

    One more link here for a recruiting site’s statistics.