Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University‘s new mission control center aims to close a knowledge gap holding back the space industry.
The international university’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., aims to expand the workforce with its new satellite mission control center.
The global space economy was valued at $546 billion at the end of 2022 and is projected to climb 41% over the next five years, according to a July report by the Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to space industry research. An August bulletin by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence projects this number to reach $1 trillion by 2030.
However, industry experts in a recent Global Satellite Operators Association webinar warned that skill gaps in job applicants could prevent the space industry from reaching its full potential.
Investing through education
Embry-Riddle has established its satellite mission control center to address the issue, Thomas Guinn, professor and chairman for Embry-Riddle’s Applied Aviation Sciences Department, told Connectivity Business News.
Recent Embry-Riddle graduate Ari Ramond, a space operations major, will begin a software engineering job next month at business consulting firm Jacobs Technology, where he will work with NASA’s Artemis 1, Ramond told CBN.
The Dallas-based firm announced in February that it had received $3.2 billion from NASA for Artemis support.
NASA will staff multiple consoles — flight controllers for various aspects of flight during the Artemis missions, which are dedicated to lunar exploration — ensuring 24/7 mission control, according to the agency’s website.
“Getting this job for the Artemis 1 mission — it almost directly correlates to what I was doing in my capstone and in Embry-Riddle’s satellite mission control center,” Ramond said.
Ramond’s degree program, Space Operations, is only offered at Embry-Riddle, Guinn told CBN.
“What makes this program unique is that it’s well-rounded in space,” Guinn said. “Besides the focus on the applications side of things, every student is required to take at least two courses in space policy and law. We have found that sometimes when engineers come to visit our students, they don’t have that ‘big picture’ point of view.”
Jacobs, who helped recover NASA’s Orion capsule from the ocean during last year’s Artemis I mission, announced intentions of establishing a separate Critical Mission Systems business. Ramond, who was hired by Jacobs in October, will be part of the new team, providing flight support for future Artemis missions, an Embry-Riddle spokesperson told CBN.
Guinn said the satellite mission control center, which opened in August after three years of planning, enhances what the Space Operations program offers.
Students can now communicate with real classroom cubesats instead of using simulators, Guinn said.
Simulations include scenarios such as anomalies or component malfunctions while a satellite is in orbit, Ramond told CBN. The classroom cubesats also allow students to collect data such as telemetry from solar arrays and send commands to satellites to rotate them in space based on the data collected, Ramond said.
Artemis needs help
The Biden Administration in March proposed a $27.2 billion NASA budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The proposed budget represents a 7% year-over-year increase from the $25.4 billion granted to the agency in 2023, according to the budget framework released March 9.
The budget allocated $8.1 billion of NASA’s total budget to the Artemis program, but NASA requested $12.4 billion to fund a human landing system and modernized space suits through 2028, according to a November report by the United States Government Accountability Office.
“NASA will have a lot of work to do to figure out how to continue on the programs they are currently planning,” warned Sen. Jerry Moran.
NASA’s inspector general estimated that the Artemis program will cost a cumulative $93 billion between 2012 and 2025.
The program has generated billions of dollars in commerce and created about 70,000 jobs, according to NASA.
An enduring market
The global satellite mission control market was $22 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach $32.1 billion in total by 2031, at a compound annual growth rate of 4.62%, according to Straits Research.
While Embry-Riddle’s mission control center was designed for students to conduct research on classroom cubesats, the scope could expand to involvement with live satellite missions, Ramond and Guinn told CBN.
“I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s not out of the question,” Guinn said.
Even as satellites become increasingly automated and software-defined, there will always be a need for satellite mission control centers to ensure safe operations, especially with mega constellations, such as Starlink, that contain thousands of satellites, according to Guinn.
“[Eventually], you may get to a point where one human can control a larger number of satellites than they can right now, but there’s always going to be a need for mission control,” he said.