WASHINGTON – Hiring remains the most serious challenge space companies face.

The industry has ambitions goals that it can accomplish, “but getting the manpower and getting people with the right niche talents into our companies to execute on these ideas is a huge challenge right now,” Cara Sindir, Airbus U.S. Space and Defense chief operations officer, said at the Satellite 2022 conference. “The other part of that challenge is obviously the inflation of salaries. How can we all afford all of these people and how does that play into our business cases?”

Hiring, a frequent topic of conversation throughout the Satellite conference, was discussed at length during the concluding panel focused on challenges ahead for the industry.

While overseeing everything from contract bidding and proposal writing and execution, Sindir said she spends 50 percent of her time on recruiting.

Panelists discussed potential solutions like recruiting people from adjacent industries and  attracting a more diverse workforce. If those steps aren’t taken, space companies will continue to compete for the same pool for workers, panelists said.

Hawthorne, California-based Mynaric U.S., for example, is in an area of the country with a large aerospace workforce. In many cases, though, workers simply move from one space company to another, said Tina Ghataore, Mynaric US chief commercial officer.

There’s also extensive engineering talent near Munich, where the Mynaric’s parent company is based, “but we are competing with some of the ‘cooler tech’ out there,” Ghataore said.

Momentus CEO John Rood noted that the labor shortage, a problem for the entire tech sector, was aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic had a distorting effect, driving people home, but I think we’re going to start to pull more of these folks back into the workplace,” Rood said. In the meantime, Rood somewhat light-heartedly invited people in the audience to leave their current posts to join Momentus. “Anybody interested? Catch me after the session here,” he said.

On the flip side, the pandemic forced companies to become more flexible in terms of operating remotely.

“This new hybrid way of doing things can be really good,” Sindir said. “We can all reach to talent that exists outside of our local markets. So that’s really exciting.”

Contests have helped Telespazio tackle the recruitment problem. Since 2019, the European spaceflight services company has held prize competitions for technological solutions through the Telespazio Open Innovation initiative.

The contests have attracted submissions from university students around the world. In many cases, the most interesting submissions have come from people who were not previously focused on space. “Of course this [contest] is a way to fish into the lake,” said Telespazio CEO Luigi Pasquali.

While discussing workforce challenges, panelists also attempted to recruit the moderator, Naia Butler-Craig, a Georgia Institute of Technology space technology graduate research fellow.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...