If you’re searching for jobs at JPL then you probably already have a pretty good idea what the research and development center does, but a little crash course won’t hurt. For all you engineering professionals interested in working at the Pasadena facility, here’s a high-level view of the organization, some backstory, as well as career information with insights into roles, qualifications, and salaries. (spoiler: JPL average salaries are higher than many private aerospace companies)
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
JPL, or “the Lab,” is a federally funded research and development center that is owned by NASA and managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). It’s technically located in La Cañada Flintridge, California, but it has a Pasadena zipcode and La Cañada Flintridge doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, so people just says it’s in Pasadena. JPL's objectives are to implement programs in planetary exploration, Earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development. The center developed America's first Earth-orbiting science satellite, created the first successful interplanetary spacecraft, and launched a robot into space to study all the planets in the solar system as well as asteroids, comets and Earth's moon.
The history of JPL began on Oct 31, 1936 when a few engineering enthusiasts gathered at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to do science. With some scraped together engine parts, the men attempted to prove rocketry, at the time a sci-fi pipe dream, could be real. Four times they tried and failed to test fire their small rocket. Undaunted, they returned on Nov. 15 and achieved a successful launch. With the help of Caltech professor and aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman, the rocketeers would continue their experiments at a facility that would become known as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Today, JPL is involved in numerous exciting missions like its Deep Space Atomic Clock. Engineers launched an ultra-precise, mercury-ion atomic clock into Earth orbit to test its potential as a next-generation tool for spacecraft navigation, radio science and global positioning systems. And of course, JPL plays a leading role in America’s continuing exploration of Mars. NASA has a goal of landing an astronaut on the Martian surface by 2033 and JPL will help make it possible.
Being part of the team that puts a human on the Red Planet has to be an engineer’s dream come true, and that could be you if you can manage to score one of the coveted jobs at JPL.
Sample Jobs at JPL
Here is a small sampling of the types of positions offered at the Lab and salaries according PayScale as of September 12, 2019.
Electronics Engineer Level 2 (Instrument)
As a JPL electronics engineer in the Microdevices & Sensor Systems Section, you’d be responsible for the development and delivery of sensors, instruments, instrument electronics, and flight software technologies needed by JPL/NASA to enable new terrestrial, astrophysics, and planetary science experiments and observations. The job requires a Bachelor's degree in a related engineering discipline with 3 years of related work experience; or Master’s degree in related disciplines with 1 year of related work experience; or PhD in related disciplines.
The average Electronics Engineer salary at JPL is $102,302. The range is $84K - $116K
Cable Harness Engineer
As a Cable Harness Engineer in JPL’s Spacecraft Mechanical Engineering Section you’d be responsible for the architecture of mechanical engineering designs and solutions that enable unprecedented missions and science acquisition. In this position, you’d work with a team that leads the development of mission-enabling technology and end-to-end mechanical systems for all JPL projects and missions. The job requires a Bachelor's degree in a related engineering discipline with 3 years of related work experience; or Master’s degree in a related discipline with 1 year of related work experience; or PhD in a related discipline.
The average Mechanical Engineer salary at JPL is $98,909. The range is $73K - $122K
Embedded Flight Software Engineer Level 2
As an Embedded Flight Software Engineer Level 2 for the Instrument Flight Software Group, you’d be responsible for designing flight software components used in some of NASA’s most ambitious missions. You’d also design software modules that implement the functions of the flight system hardware/software interfaces, boot process, and other subsystem applications (power, thermal, etc.). This position requires a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with 3 years of experience in the aerospace or space industry; or related Master’s degree with a minimum of 1 year of related experience; or PhD in a related field.
The average Software Engineer salary at JPL is $95,000. The range is $61K - $153K
Group Supervisor of Propulsion Flight Systems Development
The Group Supervisor of Propulsion Flight Systems Development is a senior-level role responsible for overseeing a team that fabricates and assembles components for Propulsion flight systems for the Mechanical Fabrication and Test Section. The section maintains technical support facilities and resources required to develop, fabricate, and assemble mechanical flight hardware. The position requires a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering or related technical discipline with 9 years of related experience; or Master's degree with a minimum of 7 years of experience’ or or PhD with 5 years of related experience.
According to Glassdoor, the average Senior Engineer salary at JPL is $134K. The range is $126K to $167K
Getting In at the Lab
Engineers at JPL not only get to lead space exploration at one of the country’s most storied institutions, they also command high, sometimes six-figure salaries. A crewed mission to Mars is on the agenda and if you want to be a part of history, then register for your (always) free Cluster account. It only takes a few minutes. We match top-tier engineers like you to leading aerospace, aviation, defense and automotive companies. You bring the talent, we’ll bring the jobs.