Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Job at JPL

Lawren Henderson
Staff Writer at Cluster

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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 positions offered at the Lab and estimated salaries as of April 24, 2020.

Electronics Reliability Engineer

As a JPL electronics reliability engineer within the Project Reliability Engineering Group, you'd be playing a key role in the reliability effort of highly complex and critical flight systems, electronic subsystems, and electro-mechanical devices. Responsibilities include verifying the reliability of systems, subsystems, and assemblies down to the circuit and component level. The job requires a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or related technical discipline with 6 years of related experience.

The average Electronics Engineer salary at JPL is $107,912. The range is $98K - $120K

Additive Manufacturing Engineer

As an additive manufacturing engineer within JPL’s Additive Manufacturing Center and Sheet Metal Fabrication Group, you'd be producing highly complex prototype and flight parts for JPL's spacecraft missions. Responsibilities include operating the AM machine, and performing materials characterization to determine mechanical, chemical, thermal and/or optical properties of AM materials. The job requires a Bachelor’s degree in materials engineering, mechanical engineering, or related technical discipline with 3 years of related experience.

The average Additive Manufacturing Engineer salary in Los Angeles is $98,829. The range is $65K - $123K

Thermal/Mechanical Engineer

As a thermal/mechanical engineer you'd spearhead the Thermal Cycle Life Qualification effort for multiple JPL projects that encounter extreme thermal cycle environments during their mission life. Responsibilities include developing and implementing the Thermal Cycle Life Qualification Plan across multiple JPL projects. You'd also lead a team of engineers to identify hardware that requires thermal cycle life testing, make assessments based on heritage hardware, and develop accelerated life test parameters. This position requires a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or related technical discipline with 9 years of related experience.

The average Mechanical Engineer salary at JPL is $103,117. The range is $74K - $121K

System Engineer

As a system engineer within JPL's  Flight Systems Engineering, Integration and Test Section, you'd  provide systems engineering for the design and implementation of spacecraft for the laboratory’s key flight projects. Your work would include spacecraft systems engineering, payload systems integration, electrical systems integration, fault protection and autonomy design, landing systems design, and more. The position requires a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, physics, or related technical discipline with 6 years of professional experience.

The average System Integration Engineer salary at JPL is $93,926K. The range is $79K to $99K

Advancing Your Career in Space Exploration

JPL is hiring, as are other innovative aerospace organizations, all of which are staffing up for exciting missions to low-Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond. If you're interested in getting in at one of these companies, we can help. 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.

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Published on
April 24, 2020