Spacecraft Operations Engineer

Long Beach, United States (USA), Rocket Lab [4079231003]

Field(s) of expertise
Space Systems Engineering Software Engineering
Job type

About this job

Rocket Lab is the global leader in small satellite launch. Our mission is to open access to space to improve life on Earth. There are endless possibilities for what we can achieve with better access to space, and that access is now a reality thanks to Rocket Lab. Our team is 500 people strong and we’re adding to it every week. Collaboration is at our core – every idea is heard and everyone makes a difference. Teams are nimble, decisions are made quickly and we are action-oriented.

Rocket Lab is seeking exceptional engineers to work on its Photon satellite program. Photon is a first-of-its-kind platform in the small satellite industry: a versatile satellite bus that is also an integral part of the launch vehicle. Photon is being developed to enable a broad range of missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond. Photon was recently selected by NASA to deploy a CubeSat to the Moon in 2021 as a pathfinder for Gateway, the program to return humans to the lunar surface.

Engineers within the Photon team have a unique opportunity to help shape this space system and, given the high launch cadence of Electron, have unparalleled opportunities for end-to-end software development and on-orbit operations.


Rocket Lab is seeking a Spacecraft Operations Engineer to support the operations development and on-orbit operations of Rocket Lab’s Photon satellites, including the lunar CAPSTONE mission in 2021. Your days will be spent developing software architecture, writing and testing software, and iterating based on lessons learned from your software running in space.

The Spacecraft Operations team is responsible for maintaining the health and safety of Rocket Lab’s growing fleet of spacecraft and ensuring that mission objectives and SLAs are met.  The team’s goal is to maximize the value Rocket Lab can create from a constantly changing fleet of diverse spacecraft. The Spacecraft Operations team also works closely with related teams, such as the spacecraft design, AIT, flight software, etc, to help improve both the ground and satellite-based capabilities over time. This unique challenge requires a versatile engineer that can: 

  • Develop scripts, software, and tools to automate day-to-day operations of Rocket Lab’s Photon satellites 
  • Work with the launch operations team, flight software team, and other design teams to develop operational plans for Photon missions 
  • Respond to issues and anomalies 
  • Work to improve the efficiency of satellite operations through automation and metrics-based decisions 

Because this role is focused on automation, Spacecraft Operations Engineers need to be comfortable writing code that handles the challenges of remotely operating spacecraft. Spacecraft Operations engineers will also provide guidance to other team members on how to do things simply, safely, and reliably with Rocket Lab satellites. 

Another key responsibility is working side-by-side with subsystem engineers and stakeholders to successfully complete on-orbit activities and experimentsThis engineer helps make sure that experiments can execute quickly, the right data is collected, and everything goes smoothly and safely. Resilience and adaptability are key here – being able to run on orbit activities quickly and often allows the Photon team to iterate quickly. 

Spacecraft Operations Engineers report to the Spacecraft Operations Lead. The Spacecraft Operations group is responsible for on-orbit operation of Rocket Lab spacecraft after launch and orbit injection and works directly with the launch team for mission planning and operational support. 

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Works with the launch operations team, spacecraft subsystem and systems engineers, flight software, and ground support to build outcomes and products that support the whole team.
  • Communicates frequently and effectively, highlighting success and learning from failures.
  • Support rigorous/challenging schedules during spacecraft ground-based testing, launch windows, and on-orbit operations.
  • Reports to the Spacecraft Operations Lead.
  • Develops automated processes to operate spacecraft.
  • Strong communication skills and constructive participation in forward planning and incident response.


Required Skills & Experience

  • 1 to 5 years of relevant work experience required.
  • Spacecraft or remote system (such as UAVs, autonomous vehicles, etc.).
  • Understanding of orbital mechanics and spacecraft systems
  • Expertise in one or more of: spacecraft power systems, attitude control systems, orbital mechanics, propulsion, thermal design, RF communications, embedded software or a similar relevant field.
  • Willing to try new things and build new systems when necessary.
  • Works across teams to make sure stakeholders are included and needs are me.
  • Fills gaps and takes action rather than waiting for detailed requirements, complete documentation, or technical support.
  • Automation and software focus rather than “traditional” approaches of manual checks and detailed procedure.
  • “Digs in” and learns new systems quickly.
  • Decisions are data-drive.
  • Ability to make prioritize and make decisions with limited information.

Preferred Skills & Experience

  • Direct spacecraft experience is preferred.
  • Software development (python/ruby/other high-level languages).
  • Exposure to modern development practices – git, CI/CD, cloud infrastructure.

Important Information

To conform to U.S. Government space technology export regulations, applicant must be a U.S. citizen as defined by ITAR (22 CFR §120.15) or eligible to obtain the required authorizations from the U.S. Department of State.

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