The Military Space Operator–After the Military, Part II: The 3 Categories

How can a USAF space operator make his/her military space job relate, using very simple terms, to the civilian space world (or possibly other industries)? One possible answer is to align those duties with categories and terms already used in the space industry.

Some space industry sector categories are useful in accurately describing the kind of jobs people do within space operations. The categories–space mission operations, space mission support, and space infrastructure–better describe professions within the over-applied “space operations” label in the USAF (in some ways, the label is about as descriptive as “leader” or “synergizing weasel”). These categories communicate to potential employers a a job candidate’s area of expertise, instead of unintentionally fogging it up under “space operations.” Again, space operations can mean a lot of different things to different people–including the hiring manager interviewing you.

Why would a military space operator go to commercial space industry when the option of working for a space contractor who works with the government might appear to be simpler, less risky, and maybe more lucrative? Consider that the U.S. government—military and civil—makes up a very minor portion of the amount of money passing hands in the global space industry. Government space operations are dwarfed by the fleets of commercial communications and Earth observation satellites. There’s also the problem that the contractor force has contracted—by about 17%–for almost a decade. This contraction hasn’t seemed to bottom out yet. If you’re a relatively new hire for a government program, how comfortable are you with the real possibility of being the first one to be cut?

How to define oneself for a job in a growing space industry? The challenge of finding work in commercial space industry is made more complex because many military space operators have experience in multiple roles: leader, system engineer, operator. How does a military space operator describe his or her talent so that a genuine civilian understands the capabilities a military space operator can bring to a civilian space organization? My suggestion is to align military space operations experiences, expertise, and talents with the categories previously mentioned.

Space mission operations, space mission support, and space infrastructure, don’t highlight the “most important” job in the space industry. They allow for a better job focus, with the option of drilling down within each category. Some cross over between categories might happen, depending on the job pursued. But perhaps initially starting with one category will help to build up a solid job-seeking story. The suggested categories are supposed to be a helpful and more meaningful way to pin down what space operators do—especially for those looking to leave the military soon.

The next post will be my attempt to define these categories.

2 thoughts on “The Military Space Operator–After the Military, Part II: The 3 Categories

  1. As a former aerospace engineer (laid off in 2012) who REALLY wants to get back into the arena, this is all good information. The trick is getting a hiring manager with enough wisdom and understanding of the overall space-related field. Actually, come to think of it, the first step is getting past the HR “keyword” searches, to allow your skills and experience to land in front of said manager.


    1. Hi Matt! Thanks. I do hope this helps people think about what they did, and what might help in what they’d like to do.

      I like reading Liz Ryan’s comments on LinkedIn about the way the job application portals are destroying companies looking for talent. There’s some good to be had in using judgment, experience, and maybe engaging the hiring manager about what’s really needed in a qualified applicant.


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