It’s easy to hate on billionaires for spending gobs of cash going to space, and jockeying for dominance over an emerging industry that will allow other moneyed elites to do the same. But space tourism has some benefits for those of us on Earth — namely, interesting and potentially well-paying job opportunities.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are staffing up in anticipation of beginning to offer spaceflights to paying customers. Virgin Galactic aims to provide commercial space trips starting in 2022. It’s less clear when exactly Blue Origin will offer regular space joyrides. One anonymous rich person paid $28 million to a Blue Origin educational charity for a seat next to Bezos on an upcoming test flight.
As of July 12, Virgin Galactic had 100 job openings, including 57 engineering-related jobs, according to Thinknum data.
Meanwhile, Blue Origin had 372 jobs posted on that day, including 196 engineering-related jobs available.
Over the past month, the companies have advertised for a wide variety of positions that are perhaps unique to the blossoming space-tourism industry, or are serving an unusual purpose in it. Virgin Galactic sought an “astronaut relations director,” which it advertised as a fixed contract position with maternity coverage. The company was also looking for a “senior air breathing propulsion engineer,” a “head of talent acquisition,” and a “people generalist,” as well as a communications person.
During the same time, Blue Origin — which appeared to be focused on beefing up its business structure — sought a “corporate recruiter,” a vice president for its Florida operations, a “director of corporate strategy,” a “treasury manager,” a legal counsel and a legal assistant. The company was also looking for a “national security sales director,” a manager of supply chain and logistics, and an “environmental, health and safety technician.”
According to Thinknum data, job openings at Virgin Galactic are largely based at its headquarters in Mojave, California or in Las Cruces, New Mexico, near the company’s new spaceport. Described as the world’s “first purpose-built commercial spaceport,” the facility is located on 18,000 acres and was built with help from $220 in state funds. The subsidy has drawn some controversy.
“Just so we’re clear: Richard Branson (worth $5.3 billion) got $220 million from taxpayers in New Mexico (one of the poorest states) to start a space travel business that 0.02% of the population can afford tickets for,” tweeted Dan Price, the Gravity Payments CEO who famously slashed his salary in 2015 in order to pay his workers a $70,000 minimum wage.
Details of where the Blue Origin positions are located were not available to Thinknum, although one can surmise that the role of vice president for Florida operations is probably based in Florida. The Bezos-founded company has a facility in Kent, Washington, a rocket factory in Cape Canaveral, Florida and a launch site in West Texas.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also gearing up to begin providing commercial space trips, although to a select market of more serious (and wealthy) adventurers. While Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are planning to offer short jaunts for hundreds of thousands of dollars a ticket, SpaceX will take four commercial passengers along for an eight-day visit to the International Space Station for $55 million each.
The trip, lasting 10 days in total, includes sleeping bags and hygiene products. Passengers will also apparently get to use a toilet aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon ship that is positioned under a glass dome to offer the user a 360-degree view.
All three companies have shown a steady upward march in headcount over the past three months, according to LinkedIn data tracked by Thinknum.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.