Pay in
the UK space sector

Summary


Introduction

This is the first ever report on pay in the UK space sector and the second in a series analysing the results of the 2020 Space Census.

Sector-specific salary data is extremely important and marks the level of maturity that the space industry has now reached. It helps employers plan for growth and ensure that what they offer is sufficiently competitive to both attract and retain employees. It also helps workers ensure they are being paid fairly and gives important information about skills that are in short supply, informing educators, policy makers, and those making decisions about their future career path.

Some of the trends in this data will be unsurprising. Salaries are highest on average in industry and lowest in non-profits. Older, more senior, and more experienced people are paid more, and salaries are higher in London and the South of England than they are in the North and outside of England. Female readers will probably be unsurprised to know that they are, on average, paid less than their male counterparts.

Other results are more unexpected. We find that almost no-one joins the space sector for pay – the sector relies on excitement to attract people – but pay is an important reason why people leave. We also find some significant divides between engineers in different roles – electrical engineers earn much more than aerospace engineers.

The space sector is traditionally split into two, the upstream (designing, building and managing spacecraft) and the downstream (using space derived data and services). This means that it competes both with other engineering sectors, primarily for upstream roles, and with the tech sector, primarily for downstream ones. Salary data is therefore vital to ensuring that the space sector is not constrained by a lack of access to talent.


Methodology

The 2020 Space Census was conducted by the Space Skills Alliance on behalf of the Space Growth Partnership's Space Skills Advisory Panel, and supported by the UK Space Agency and UKspace. It was funded by the University of Leicester.

The survey was conducted via an online form open for 12 weeks from 7th October to 31st December 2020. It comprised approximately 50 questions covering demographic information (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.), work information (role, company, salary, etc.) experiences discrimination, and paths into the sector (qualifications, influences, etc.).

We surveyed 1552 people from more than 250 organisations across industry, academia, government, the military, and the non-profit sector. This is approximately 5% of the UK space workforce. More details on our methodology and the characteristics of the dataset can be found in our earlier report.

Respondents were asked to select one of ten pay bands of £10k: under £20k, £20k - £29k, £30k - £39k etc., and more than £100k, for their full-time equivalent salary. Only about 5% of people did not respond to this question.

To obtain mean and median salaries, we assume an average value for each band (so £20k - £29k is taken as £25k), and give the top and bottom bands the value of £105k and £15k respectively.

It should be noted that this is quite coarse data. In most cases, the vast majority of salaries fall within the eight well-defined bands, giving us confidence that our estimates, though not very precise, should be reasonably accurate.


How much are people paid?

The mean space sector salary is £49k, well ahead of the median UK salary of £31k 1, but less than that in the tech sector and below average for engineering sectors (see below).

However, an average for the whole sector gives an incomplete picture, and it is important to look at a different subsection of the industry in more depth.

By organisation type & size

The private sector pays £12k more on average than the public sector and £14k more than the third sector. The mean salary in industry is £55k, and fully 10% of people are paid over £100k. Industry also sees the smoothest and widest distribution of salaries with a broad curve around the median.

By contrast, salaries in government and defence are very similarly distributed but are much more tightly clustered than industry, reflecting their formal structure of pay grades, with a mean salary of £46k. There is a notable discontinuity at the £30k mark, suggesting this is a common starting salary. While government salaries tail off above £70k, this is not true for defence, where 20% of salaries are above this point.

Academia is similar in that pay is clustered, again likely due to formal pay grades, but has a slightly different structure. By far the largest salary band (33%) is under £20k, reflecting the poor pay of PhD students, followed by £30-39k (18%) and £40-49k (19%). Together these three bands make up 71% of salaries. There are very few academic salaries in the £20-29k bracket since postdoctoral salaries (often the next step after a PhD) in the UK tend to be above £33k 2. Including PhD students, the mean salary for academia is £40k, or £52k not including PhD students.

By contrast, those working in non-profits see the lowest salaries, with a mean of £41k.

Smaller organisations tend to pay less well than big ones. The mean salary for small and micro organisations (those with fewer than 50 employees) is £44k, compared to £50k for medium and large ones.

Average pay by organisation type. Industry pays better than any other sector, and about a third of those in academia, primarily PhD students, are on salaries of £20k or less.

By location

The UK space industry is concentrated in London and the South of England, home to about 60% of the UK’s space organisations, including clusters in Harwell and along the M4 corridor. The rest of England accounts for about 20% of organisations 3.

A similar divide is seen in salaries. Those working in London and the South of England can expect average salaries of about £50k, with salaries of almost £10k less across the rest of the UK.

This is likely driven by increased competition and higher costs of living. If the trend towards remote working continues, then there will be less of a need to live near the office, and we may see the space workforce more spread out across the country.

Average salary by UK region. London and the South see an average pay of about £50k, while in the rest of the country the average is £5k - £10k lower.

By age & seniority

Over a career, average salary increases with age, seniority, and the amount of time spent in a role and the sector.

There is a consistent salary increase of £20k from junior (£27k) to middle (£47k) to senior (£66k) positions. Trainees (including apprentices, grad schemes, and PhD students) are on £19k on average. Whilst this sounds like good progression, these numbers are all about £10k less than their equivalents in the tech sector 4.

Average salaries increase by 1.6x from junior to mid-level roles, 1.6x from mid-level to senior roles, and increases by 2.0x from junior to senior over a career.

Another way to look at progression is by age. Salaries increase by about £9k every 5 years of age starting at about £22k for 18-24 year-olds, before flatlining at £65k from age 50 onwards. A similar result is seen for time spent in the sector, with a salary increase of £1k-2k for every year of experience in both a specific role and the sector as a whole.

Average salary by age group. Salaries increase by about £9k for every five years of age until capping out at £65k at age 50.
Average salary by number of years spent working in the sector. Salaries increase by £1k-£2k for every year of experience.

By segment

Jobs in the upstream sector typically pay more than those in the downstream, regardless of seniority.

Ground segment manufacturing and operations offers the highest pay in the sector, with senior people earning an average of more than £70k, and more than 12% of people with salaries of over £100k. By comparison, the next highest paying segment is upstream manufacturing, where 8% are paid more than £100k.

Those working in areas such as science, IT, and data analytics can expect slightly lower senior salaries of up to £62k, while those working in business support reach £57k.

The lowest starting salaries are in science (influenced by the stipends of PhD students), research, education; the highest are in IT, ground segment manufacture and operations, and for those working in policy and legal.

It’s not clear why upstream jobs slightly pay more than downstream ones. One possible explanation is that the downstream is smaller and less mature, with more SMEs and start-ups, which pay about £6k less on average (see above).

It may also be due to sampling bias in who responded to the Census. Downstream employees feel less connected to the space sector than other sectors like tech, and are therefore less likely to self-identify as the target audience of the Space Census.

The types of jobs offered within the downstream sector may also have an impact. The skills required for many downstream roles are primarily software and data analysis expertise which is highly transferable from other sectors 5, so companies may be able to hire from a wider pool of candidates. By contrast, the upstream tends to be more specialised – there are many programmers in the UK, but far fewer satellite propulsion experts – giving people with these skills the chance to name their price.

Software and data skills are also much easier to obtain. Demand from the tech sector has meant that there are many degrees, courses, and other learning opportunities available both on and offline, creating a larger pool of skilled candidates. There are however far fewer opportunities to lean upstream engineering outside of traditional university settings.

Average salary by seniority and segment. Ground segment roles offer the highest salaries, followed by upstream manufacturing.
Segment Trainee Junior Mid-Level Senior
Ground segment manufacturing £21k £33k £53k £74k
Ground segment operations £23k £33k £50k £72k
Upstream manufacturing £21k £30k £48k £68k
Data £18k £29k £45k £66k
Policy, legal etc. £23k £32k £48k £66k
R&D £19k £27k £44k £64k
Science £16k £22k £43k £64k
Education £16k £24k £43k £63k
IT £25k £30k £46k £62k
Business support £19k £30k £46k £57k
Other £25k £29k £46k £51k

By role

Somewhat unsurprisingly, those working in management and sales (across any segment) have the highest salaries in the industry, earning on average more than £60k, with the potential for earnings of more than £70k at senior levels.

By contrast, those working in administrative, scientific, and educational roles (including teachers, outreach, and academics on teaching contracts) have the lowest salaries, though again, the average for science roles is pulled down by particularly low-paid junior and PhD roles.

In the previous section we identified ground segment manufacturing and operations as segments with high average salaries. Looking at the intersection between segment and role, it is clear that these segment averages are not skewed by high salaries for any particular role. Instead, those working in the ground segment consistently earn more than their peers elsewhere.

By contrast, those working in computing and data analysis receive lower salaries across all segments. Notably, those in the downstream data segment in computing roles earn much less than their computing peers in upstream segments.

Average salary by seniority and role. Management and sales roles offer the highest pay. The sample size for senior administrators was too small to produce an average.
Role Junior Mid-Level Senior Average
Management £39k £56k £74k £66k
Sales £30k £60k £70k £60k
Policy £36k £50k £59k £50k
Engineering £31k £45k £63k £48k
Computing £31k £44k £57k £43k
Science £22k £42k £67k £38k
Administration £29k £40k £37k
Education £29k £37k £44k £37k

By qualification & subject

Your highest level of qualification appears to have a limited impact on your salary, unless you have an MBA.

Those with a master’s degree appear to earn the least on average, but this is largely a function of age. Integrated master’s degrees have become much more popular in recent years 6, and 80% of 25-29 year-olds in the space sector now have a master’s degree, compared to just 33% of 50-54 year-olds . When age is controlled for, this salary gap largely vanishes.

MBAs lead to the highest salaries, and are typically held by those working in management roles.

While your qualifications may not impact greatly on your salary, the subject area you chose to study can.

Few subject areas see average salaries of more than £50k, but those that do include business and social studies, which typically leads to high paying roles in management and sales, and electronics engineering, computer science, maths, and physics, reflecting the shortages of people with these degrees and skills across all sectors.

Average salary by level of highest qualification and age. Once age is controlled for, there is very little difference in the salaries of those with bachelor's, master's, or PhDs, but those with MBAs are paid considerably more.
Average pay by subject of highest qualification. Electronic engineers are paid £10k more than aerospace and other engineers.
Subject All org types Ex. academia
Business £63k £63k
Electronics engineering £59k £61k
Computer Science £57k £60k
Maths £52k £59k
Physics £44k £51k
Geography and Geophysics £42k £44k
Engineering (general, mechanical, etc.) £48k £48k
Aerospace engineering £45k £47k
Biology and chemistry, and other sciences £55k £47k

Your subject of study does not always correspond to your later career path, which makes comparing roles and subjects messy, but we can tease out a couple of interesting results.

Perhaps most surprisingly, we find that people with aerospace engineering qualifications working in engineering roles earn less than those their peers who studied physics or computer science (Fig. 6). The relatively high salary of those with a qualification in electrical engineering (£55k) and working in an engineering role again indicates the shortage of and demand for electrical engineers in the sector. It is possible that there is an electrical/mechanical split, with physicists and computer scientists falling more into the higher-paying electrical engineering category.

This aligns closely with the Space Sector Skills Survey earlier this year which highlighted software engineering, radio frequency engineering, and electronics engineering as skills in short supply 7.

Similarly, having a qualification in computer science doesn’t guarantee a significantly higher salary in a computing or data-related role (Fig. 7). The difference we see here is within the margin of error. This is perhaps because the computing skills needed within the space sector are often also found within other STEM courses. If these roles start to rely on concepts such as machine learning that are more specific to computer science courses then this salary gap may start to widen.

For those working in management, a qualification in business does seem to lead to the highest salaries (£71k), but STEM graduates are paid only slightly less (£67k) (Fig. 8). Humanities graduates by contrast typically earn substantially less (£58k) in management roles.

Average salary by subject of highest qualification for those in engineering roles. Computer scientist and electronic engineers out-earn other STEM graduates.
Average salary by subject of highest qualification for those in computing roles. Computer scientists earn only slightly more than other STEM graduates.
Average salary by subject of highest qualification for those in management roles. Business graduates earn only slightly more than STEM graduates, but more than other humanities graduates.

Is there pay inequality?

The gender pay gap

Note: Though the Census included people of all genders, only male and female are discussed below, as the number of people identifying as neither (approximately 1% of all respondents) is too small to allow us to draw any conclusions.

The size of this pay gap varies across sectors, roles, seniority level etc. but in virtually every case men are paid more than women. The only exception we have found is that women are paid more on average when working in administrative roles, but this is clouded by the fact that there were only three male respondents in this category.

Men are, on average, paid £11k more than women. The mean and median salaries for women are £41k and £35k respectively. For men, they are £52k and £45k. This gap widens with age and seniority.

This tallies with results from a 2019 survey of the engineering sector which found that women in engineering are paid on average £9k less than their male colleagues 8.

We know from previous research that women in the sector are generally younger than men, with about 32% under 30, compared to 23% of men 9. However, even controlling for age, the gender pay gap persists. Among 18-40 year olds, the gap is about £4k, while above age 40 it widens to more than £10k.

Among those in junior and trainee roles, there is a very slight gender gap, with men on average paid £1k more. In mid-level roles, the gap widens to £4k, and then to £9k in senior roles.

One often cited reason why women are paid less is that they are more likely to take a career break to have children. This was not supported by our data. We found that parents are paid more on average than their peers – this may be because parents go for higher paying jobs to cover the cost of having children – and the pay gap between men and women remains constant regardless of whether or not they have children.

This result is extremely robust. If we control for as many variables as we can whilst retaining a reasonable sample size, we consistently find women are paid less. If we look only at university educated White women working in mid-level roles in science and engineering, we still find an average pay gap of about £3k.

Other pay gaps

The main driver of diversity in the space sector is age 9, and this combined with small sample sizes for minority groups means that it is very difficult to identify other pay gaps based on protected characteristics other than gender and ethnicity.

For example, the mean salary for a White person is £49k, while Asian, Black, and Mixed ethnicity people have a mean salary of £45k, an apparent salary gap of £4k.

However, we know that the most ethnically diverse cohorts are under 35 and that younger people of all ethnicities are paid less, so it is important to control for age. Looking at the under 35s and over 35s separately, we see no ethnicity-related pay gap. White under 35s are paid £32k on average, whilst their peers of other ethnicities are on £33k, a negligible difference, and among over 35s, the average is £60k regardless of ethnicity.

This does not mean there is no ethnicity-related salary gap or racial bias in salary negotiations – evidence from other sources suggests it is a problem 10 – just that we can find no conclusive evidence for it.

Average salary gap between men and women et each seniority level. Women in junior roles are paid slightly less than their male peers, while those in senior roles are paid substantially less.

How does space compare to other sectors?

Space competes with talent both with other engineering sectors, primarily for upstream roles, and with the tech sector, primarily for downstream ones.

While space salaries are in line with those in other engineering sectors, they quickly fall behind those in the tech sector. Both sectors have a skills shortage and are competing for a lot of the same talent, but tech is paying more. Demand for technologists has increased by 40% in the last two years and tech salaries have gone up by more than 10% 4.

The Space Sector Skills Survey noted that few businesses reported difficulty getting applications for graduate level positions, but that shortages were widespread at higher levels. This is consistent with the trends we see for salaries.

Graduate roles

We cannot isolate graduate-specific salaries within the Space Census dataset, but the leading graduate schemes within the sector, including at ESA, Airbus, STFC RAL Space, MBDA, and BAE, all offer around £27k.

This figures aligns well with that Times Top 100 Graduates Employers survey which quotes average salaries of £28k in the engineering sector, compared to £32k in the technology sector and £45k in consulting 11.

Estimates from graduate-jobs.com are lower, and the site notes that competition among the Top 100 employers drives up salaries compared to the rest of the graduate market 12. They quote an average salary for graduates in engineering of £27k, compared to £28k for those in technology, and £30k in banking.

Higher level roles

The salary gap between space and tech widens with seniority.

Those working in junior roles in the space sector see an average salary of £31k (not including those working in academia as PhD students bring this average down), putting them at the lower end of the salary scale compared to their peers both in engineering more widely and in the tech sector.

In mid and senior level roles, the technology sector offers considerably more. Senior salaries in space are equivalent to mid-level salaries in tech.

Average space sector salaries compared to those in the engineering and tech sectors. While space is on par with engineering, it pays considerably less than tech. Source: Engineering UK 8 and Xcede 4
Sector Junior Mid-level Senior
Space sector £31k £48k £66k
Engineering sector £34k £57k
Tech sector £43k £58k £80k

How does pay influence recruitment & retention?

Virtually no respondents (<1%) cite pay as their main reason for joining the space sector. The vast majority said they joined because they liked space or found the work interesting.

The less well paid someone is, the more likely they are to cite pay as their reason for changing jobs. Those looking to change jobs are paid £8k less on average than those who are happy staying put. However this number is inflated because people in more junior (lower paying) roles are, while those in more senior (higher paying) roles are not. Controlling for seniority, the gap falls to £3k.

How much people feel they are worth is often dependent on how much their peers are paid. Comparing each respondent’s salary to the median salary of people at the same level of seniority, we can see the impact of this. Those paid significantly less than their peers are much more likely to cite pay as a reason for changing jobs. We find that, of those people who are changing jobs, 41% who are very underpaid compared to their peers state that pay is a key factor for their decision.

For many people there is a trade-off between salary and work-life balance. People with a self-reported terrible work-life balance earned an average of £11k or 18% more than those with a bad work-life balance, and £15k or 23% more than those with an okay or great work-life balance.

This gap is considerably larger than that found in related surveys. A survey by US recruitment site Joblist found that just under a third of workers would be willing to give up an average of $2k (~£1.5k) or 4% of their salary for a better work life balance 13. Another survey earlier this year found that three quarters of UK office workers would accept an average 14% salary reduction if it meant they had the freedom to always work remotely 14.

Percentage of leavers citing pay as a factor for leaving. Over/underpaid is in comparison to the median salary for a person's level of seniority. Less well paid people are more likely to leave because of pay.

Conclusion

The space sector has ambitious goals for growth over the next decade 15, and is already facing a skills shortage 357 as it competes for STEM talent with other growing sectors like technology.

Competitive salaries are a key tool in addressing this shortage and meeting these growth targets.

Until recently space has been a relatively small sector 3 with a handful of relatively large players. The number of space companies has more than doubled in the last five years, and employment is growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy. It will not be able to maintain this growth rate without a supply of talent, and it will struggle to recruit and retain people if it does not pay well.

At the moment nobody joins the space sector for the pay, instead they join because they like space or find the work interesting. While this gives the impression that the sector is full of people excited about their work, it also suggests that it is not paying competitively.

Relying on space’s ‘cool’ factor is not enough to sustain a growing sector. The present skills shortages suggest that the sector has used up the pool of skilled space-enthusiasts and must now make the sector attractive to a wider range of people.

Results from the Space Sector Skills Survey suggest that in particular there is a shortage of mid-career professionals, because salaries do not keep pace with skills 7. This aligns with the gap we see between space salaries and those of the tech sector, which widens with seniority. Graduates with no dependents and no mortgage can afford to work for less, but pay becomes a more and more consideration as people get older.

Trends in tech salary growth suggest that this gap is only likely to widen further 4.

The substantial and persistent gender pay gap is indicative of serious systemic discrimination within the sector that drives people away. Gender pay gaps are rightly being given more attention, with the most recent legislation introduced in 2017. As this scrutiny increases, failure to address this issue will hurt the sector’s reputation. Instead, space has the opportunity to address this issue and build a reputation as an industry that pays fairly and pays well.


Future work

The Space Census data presented in this report offers a snapshot of the state of pay in the sector. It is important to continue to collect salary data to better understand trends, identify skills shortages, and inform decision-making to remain competitive. We hope to partner with space sector organisations to collect salary data on a regular basis to create a databank and offer a salary benchmarking service for the sector.

If you’d like to know more about our salary benchmarking service then subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media or get in touch at [email protected].



Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Satellite Applications Catapult and the UK Space Agency for funding this report, the University of Leicester for funding the 2020 Space Census, and the Space Growth Partnership and UKspace for providing resources and support for this research.

We would also like to thank those people and organisations who helped promote the Space Census, particularly the Satellite Applications Catapult, Space Universities Network (SUN), Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Space Academic Network (SPAN), SPRINT, SSPI UK, the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC), the IET Satellite group, the British Interplanetary Society (BIS), Europlanet, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), GVF, World Space Week, and Space Park Leicester.

A special thank you goes out to Craig Brown and Kathie Bowden for their continued support of our work, and to our friends, colleagues, and advisors, Rob Garner, Áine O’Brien, Ed Chester, Julia Hunter-Anderson, and Sheila Kanani for their advice, ideas, and typo-spotting eyes.


Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You can copy, redistribute, and adapt what we’ve presented for any non-commercial purpose. However, you must give us credit and link back to this page. If you want to use it in a commercial context, get in touch with us at [email protected].


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