If you love making things go fast or just go boom, listen up: Launch engineer, fluid systems could be the job in the space industry for you.
The launch engineer is the architect behind how space shuttles, satellites, and other objects being launched into outer space get into the great beyond. It’s an intellectually stimulating and challenging job in an exciting field. It’s space! What’s not to like?
What the Job Is
The launch engineer, fluid systems can kind of be seen as the adult version of the kid down the street who loved playing with firecrackers. The launch engineer in fluid systems plans the analytical design and development of propellant and pressure systems for the vehicle headed to outer space. That means making sure the big launch explosion gets the satellite or shuttle into space safely and in the planned manner.
Launch engineers use a combination of liquid oxygen, RP-1, gaseous helium, gaseous nitrogen, hydraulics, water, and environmental control systems to turn that big explosion into the perfect, controlled ignition it has to be in order to get the project literally off the ground.
While that’s the “flashy” part of the job, getting to that point includes lots of testing and examining vehicles before and after testing, as well as modeling fluid systems and working with other teams on how the launch will go. The list of duties can get extensive with the need for knowledge of engineering codes and piping fittings, as well as the need to monitor safety conditions.
Where the Job Is
It depends on the company, but it’s a job where you’ll spend lots of time creating fluid models, some time testing, and no small amount of time ordering supplies, talking with vendors and doing other office work related to the launch engineer’s duties.
That means office and lab time are two of the areas where you can be found. But in some cases, like at Firefly Space Systems, launch engineer, fluid systems employees have the opportunity to become control room operators for rocket launches.
The education can vary some depending on the exact specifications of the system with which you’re working, but positions like one recently listed by SpaceX (one of Stem Jobs’ tech companies on the rise) for a launch engineer, fluid systems requires that the applicant have a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline.
But that’s the absolute minimum. In a competitive marketplace, a master’s degree in engineering – often mechanical engineering – is almost essential. To work in the space industry as a launch engineer you generally need some good experience working with fluid and/or mechanical systems (listings sometimes mention experience with hydraulics and HVAC systems), and a resume that shows you’re a creative thinker.
One recent estimate has the average for a launch engineer, fluid systems around $85,000. That will vary depending on the company and the projects involved. Space exploration is an industry that can go through a lot of flux, but employees who are good problem solvers will always be in high demand.
The space industry is an exciting one. With projects currently taking place like the arrival of Juno at Jupiter and NASA beginning their project to send a manned shuttle to Mars – not to mention looming commercial space flights and the diverse projects coming from projects like SpaceX, there is a lot to be excited about.