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A spacesuit is on display that will be used by NASA's Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon in just a few years. Crews were working at the NASA display the day before the opening of the 37th Space Symposium at the Broadmoor on Sunday, April 3, 2022. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

U.S. space industry employment reached a 10-year high in 2021, and the year saw a record number of launches, according to the Space Report 2022 for the first quarter.

The Space Foundation released the report Monday as the 37th Space Symposium got underway at The Broadmoor.

In 2021, were 151,797 workers in U.S. private sector space companies. That’s an 18.4% increase since 2016, and a 2% increase from 2020’s employment level of 148,867.

“The space sector did not experience the downward trend in employment seen in the overall U.S. private sector economy associated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020,” according to the report.

The increase was “driven largely by employment in the launch vehicle job sector.”

There were 134 launches in 2021, putting 1,730 payloads into orbit, according to the report.

That surge “left space firms competing for assemblers, electricians, machinists, technicians and welders in addition to engineers and other degreed professionals usually associated with space industries,” the report states.

“It’s really the highest level of activity that we’ve seen throughout the space era,” said Lesley Conn, director of research and analysis for the Space Foundation and managing editor of the report, at a press conference Monday. “One of the most interesting things that we’re seeing is the payload for those launches in just five years has almost tripled.”

Mariel Borowitz, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech and Space Foundation research analyst, showed average space industry wages at $125,214 per year.

“You can see working in the space sector is a pretty good place to be,” Borowitz said.

The average private sector employee makes $62,247, and one that works in a STEM-centered job earns an average of $98,340.

But — as with many industries — there’s a shortage of workers.

“There’s a real concern about the labor supply that is available, particularly in precision manufacturing,” Conn said. “They’re needed in the rapidly growing sectors such as launch vehicle manufacturing and satellite manufacturing.”

To help educate future space industry workers, the foundation last week started the Space Foundation University, where students can take online classes, said Kelli Kedis Ogborn, vice president of Space Commerce and Entrepreneurism. The foundation also recently started the Space Commerce Institute.

“There is a lot of new opportunity coming down the pipe that people already in the space industry need to be able to figure out how to take advantage of and grow.”

It's launched efforts to increase professional development and networking opportunities, as well as consulting services for entrepreneurs.

“We tapped into the robust network and ecosystems that the Space Foundation has built over its 37 years so they can get a cadre of experts who can provide the right information at the right time,” Ogborn said.

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