Saturday, December 5, 2015

Weekend "Ask CJ": chemists who want to work in the space industry?

Now here's something you don't see very often. From the inbox, a question about the space industry:
Do you know anything about job opportunities for MS chemists in the space industry? I've been applying to technical writer positions at places like NASA, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Boeing, but also one R&D position at SpacePharma (http://www.space4p.com/). Unfortunately, most of these companies need engineers instead of scientists...
Seems to me that there are a few defense contractors, and both the Navy and Air Force have propellant-oriented research.

Readers, any ideas?  

8 comments:

  1. I would image what chemists they employ would be mostly specialist in materials, and fuel/combustion

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  2. I've wondered about that a few times, too. Some possible areas where chemists might be useful could be ceramics, or the adhesives which keep them in place under extreme conditions. Others might include something along the lines of bio-engineering of edible plants for zero-gravity. Or else some zero-gravity hygenic products? Maybe fuel additives which would increase the durability of rocket engines?

    Like anything else, the plan would be to get to know someone from the inside. Perhaps aim to have an experiment sent up to the international space station?

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  3. I would imagine that many of the materials that are used in spacecraft/aircraft are bought from suppliers who specialize in making/formulating such materials. One way to start is to google phrases like 'adhesives aerospace' or 'adhesives NASA'. Several company names come up as suppliers in this area. Some of these might even be government contractors. The OP could then look on LinkedIn to see what sort of background people who work for these companies have. Then go on from there, identifying what sorts of materials are used to build spacecraft/aircraft, and find the companies that are suppliers.
    I believe the Air Force research lab is in Dayton, Ohio, so looking for jobs there is an option. There is also a Naval research lab in Wash. DC, which is another place to look.
    If the OP has some background in polymers/material science, I think that would be an advantage.
    Another thought would be to see if a professional society for materials has an aerospace/space division, which would also open up a way to contact people.

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  4. agiantamongmoleculesDecember 5, 2015 at 1:09 PM

    Orbital ATK, formerly Thiokol, snaps up polymer (rubber) and materials chemists for their booster business in Utah. If you are into skiing and the outdoors it is worth looking at.

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  5. I've always wondered who makes the fuel and how one would come by a job opportunity there. That sounds interesting.

    Another thing I've wondered about is the companies which supply the resin used in creating composites along with fiberglass, carbon and all that fun stuff. So that'd be a polymer chemist sort of thing I guess. Plenty of epoxides and smelly amine hardeners.

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  6. As with any other industry you have to target the places that have a heavy concentration of companies and startups. For the space industry, you are not looking at the typical coastal cities. The first two places to look are Alabama and Utah. Huntsville has a large number of companies and contractors that have grown up around the NASA center there. Likewise Utah has a bunch of companies. Someone already mentioned ATK which hires a good number of chemists, but there are a number of other companies surrounding Utah State University and their Space Dynamics Lab which has launched more experiments into space than any other university. I suspect that you are going to find that many of these companies are looking for engineers since so much of the focus now is on satellites and sensors, etc. but if you are a chemist that can sell some analytical/measurements side, you might be able to crack the door open.

    Of course the other option is to fill in your lottery ticket and apply to be an astronaut with NASA when they reopen the job posting this month, you'll only have to make it past thousands of others, which given the job market may not be much worse odds than anywhere else.

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  7. From the inbox, stem_wonk (stemwonk.wordpress.com) speaks:

    Hi! I have my PhD in chemistry and after I defended I had the opportunity to work at the National Academies within the Space Studies Board as a Mirzayan Policy Fellow. You do not need a PhD to be a Mirzayan fellow, it is one of the few policy fellowships MS can get! And that fellowship, specifically in the Space Studies Board, is an opportunity to better understand the stakeholders and policies that influence the space industry as well as gain entry into networking with key players in that industry. From that position, and with some mad networking skills, I met some folks in the policy shop at NASA, who connected me with chemists at the various NASA centers working on interesting work in astrobiology and astrochemistry. Consider looking into policy positions/opportunities if you are interested in technical writing in the space industry. In those positions you need a technical background, not necessarily space or engineering, but also general audience communication skills.

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