Space is becoming increasingly important in everyday life as we use it in a variety of public services, such as national security, science, innovation, and communication. Therefore, it is important to have a political decision making process at both local and global levels, for how and why we use outer space - which is where policy makers come in.
What would you be doing?
To keep space safe, stable, and sustainable for the future, people need to create laws to govern how space is currently used, and how it will be in the future. They also need to agree on space programmes for the medium to long term, and decide which countries will provide support to programmes. The primary tasks of policy makers include providing guidance and advice to the government, and public companies. They may be involved with:
- Financial planning and budget management
- International relations with other space agencies or nations
- Developing government policy on space activity
- Dealing with legislative issues regarding the future of technology in space
Many policy makers become involved in the field because they have an interest in the subject. For others, it’s the chance to work on high level international policy, which holds the appeal. Policy makers must be able to communicate with a wide range of people, create sustainable policies in line with government priorities, and translate technical language into good policy.
An example where space policy is required is in large space programmes such as the International Space Station programme, Earth observation satellite systems such as the Sentinel system, or in new ventures such as the prospect of space launches from UK soil. Since these programmes can last for decades, we need projects in place to make sure that the technology being used is sustainable. After all, we are heading into a new age of human travel, where it will be possible for civilians to travel into space and to Mars. It is therefore vital that each element of the project is designed for the long term, lasting well beyond the usual political cycle of many policies.
What does a typical day involve?
Most policy makers work directly for the government, with an example being the UK Space Agency.
Days usually involve some form of contact with other agencies, the government, or space companies. Policy makers are involved in many different types of meetings, which can range from negotiating space programme budgets, offering advice to UK space companies, or agreeing on civil space policies across agencies. A policy maker must be prepared to travel, especially since the UK is a member state of the European Space Agency (ESA), and works closely with other international agencies through a series of international agreements.
Policy roles often involve outreach work, talking to others about the UK space mission. This can range from meeting groups of children, or talking to the media.
What specific skills are needed?
An interest in STEM, and specifically the space sector is important for the job. After all, policy makers in the space industry need to be up to date and enthusiastic about space affairs. Consistently staying on top of the latest trends and news, and forming an opinion about them, is a key part of the job!
Excellent communication and negotiation skills are also needed, as policy holders will work with others to influence policies, and tackle any challenges that may arise. After all, it can be difficult to collaborate with different space agencies that may have different views on how space should be governed. Being able to translate technical science into policy is also an important communication skill.
With any type of policy job it is important to have good decision making skills. Policy makers will sometimes have to make short notice decisions on behalf of the UK government. For example, in respect of budget allocation or which programmes to commit to.
An understanding of how the government works and how policy is developed is also very useful.
What type of qualifications are required?
Space policy is quite a unique job, so there really is no direct path into it; many jobs will offer some form of relevant experience. However, a background in policy, business, or STEM is typically required for many jobs. Policy makers will usually have experience of national or local government, and some form of STEM background.