Another issue facing the U.S. space industry is the demographic challenge associated with the retirement of veteran space employees and the entry of a new workforce. As shown in the exhibit NASA Civil Servant Workforce Age Profiles Over Time, the NASA workforce is concentrated in an age band from 45 to 54 years of age.
Earth observation satellites require unique ground infrastructure support, as these satellites collect large quantities of specialized data. While many ground stations for other kinds of satellites serve as hubs, simply relaying data between satellites and terrestrial users, Earth observation ground stations sometimes require specialized facilities to stitch together and interpret the data collected by remote sensing satellites. This enables people to make use of the imagery in a wide range of consumer and scientific applications.
At Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, the contractor workforce is anticipated to be reduced from ## in 2009 to approximately ## by the time the shuttle ceases operations. Impacts of this job loss are expected to significantly affect the local economy beyond space industry unemployment alone. The workforce development agency in Brevard County, where KSC is located, estimates that up to ## jobs in total will be lost in the county as a result of the NASA contractor downsizing.
In 2010, the United States launched the first Space Based Space Surveillance satellite (SBSS-1) for its Space Surveillance Network. From its LEO orbit, SBSS-1 supplements ground-based equipment that tracks more than ## objects ## centimeters (## inches) or larger orbiting Earth. Its vantage point in space means that its observations of other objects in space are not affected by weather, lighting, or distortion that can be caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. This enables more accurate and timely information regarding objects’ orbital paths, thus allowing for earlier warnings of potential spacecraft collisions.
Another notable launch in 2010 was the first Space Based Space Surveillance satellite (SBSS-1) for the U.S. Space Surveillance Network. This branch of U.S. Strategic Command is tasked with detecting, identifying, and tracking space objects in order to provide true situational awareness in space. From its LEO orbit, SBSS-1 will supplement ground-based equipment that tracks more than ## objects orbiting Earth. Its vantage point from space means that its measurements are not subject to weather, lighting, or distortion that can be caused by the Earth’s atmosphere.
One specialized type of system that uses both satellites and ground stations is dedicated to space situational awareness (SSA). An SSA system tracks satellites and other objects orbiting Earth. This is accomplished through a series of ground stations which are dedicated to scanning the sky via a variety of means in order to detect and plot the courses of objects in space. This data is then compiled and analyzed to create a series of predictions regarding possible collisions.
Since 2004, NASA has been planning for the retirement of the Space Shuttle, scheduled to fly its last mission in 2011. The shuttle was to be replaced by the Constellation Program, which would have had both a smaller budget and workforce. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, approximately ## civil servants and ## contractors were employed nationwide by either the Shuttle or Constellation Program.
An essential element of space infrastructure, ground stations transmit commands to and receive data from spacecraft. They also often contain facilities to process that data, particularly in the case of Earth observation satellites. The data sent from ground stations includes command and control data, software upgrades, and other mission-critical instructions. Satellites send information such as tracking and telemetry data in addition to imagery and scientific observations.
The U.S. private-sector and civil space workforce is complemented by a group of military space professionals maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The development of a dedicated DoD “space cadre” stemmed in part from a 2001 report by the Space Commission of the U.S. National Security Space Office (NSSO) noting that the DoD was “not yet on course to develop the space cadre the nation needs.”
In 2009, the average salary across the six core U.S. space industry sectors was $##. This was more than double the average private-sector salary of $##. The gap between space and general private-sector wages is even more pronounced within certain industry sectors. In 2009, professionals in two of the six space sectors analyzed earned an average salary in excess of six figures.