Salaries in astronomical telescopes and instrumentation: Scientists and engineers who develop ground and space-based telescopes, instrumentation, and supporting technology

Studying the universe using optics and other light-based technology
28 September 2021
by Adam Resnick

Astronomical Salaries Infographic


Astronomical telescopes and instrumentation salaries in optics and photonics
The opportunities and challenges of a growing field inspire the work of scientists and engineers specializing in astronomical, ground-based, space, and other telescopes. The average salary for this group was $98,792 worldwide in 2020. This table, and all other data on this page, come from the 2021 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report.

25th Percentile Median 75th Percentile
$49,750 $89,432 $132,000
2020 salaries, N=284


What most inspired people to choose a career in optics and photonics?
Members of the astronomical telescopes and instrumentation community cite a variety of inspirations for choosing their career paths. The opportunity and excitement of a growing field tops the list, followed closely by scientific curiosity about light, and the influence of professors, teachers, and mentors.

What most inspired you to pursue optics, photonics, or a related field? Percentage
The opportunities, excitement, and challenges presented by a growing field 21%
Scientific curiosity about light 20%
Professors, teachers, or mentors 18%
Other 14%
A course at university 13%
Interest in solving problems with light 11%
A course at secondary school 3%
2020 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report


What are the most popular job roles and how much are they paid?
Just over one quarter of astronomical telescopes and instrumentation workers fill jobs in basic research of science, earning a median salary of $81,619. Those engaged in engineering or design earn a median salary of $85,000.

Job Role Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Basic research or science 26% $81,619
Engineering or design 22% $85,000
Applied research 11% $81,717
Project or program management 10% $115,258
College professor, teacher, or other educator 8% $77,010
Executive, leadership, or owner 6% $153,012
Technical or lab 5% $71,000
Other 4% $71,800
Application or product development 3% $61,469


Are there gender differences in representation and pay?
Women survey respondents in the astronomical telescopes and instrumentation community earn 11% more on average their male counterparts, going against the pattern in the broader optics and photonics community, where men earn 28% more than women.

Gender Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Women 18% $96,000
Men 82% $85,929


Which countries have the highest salaries in astronomical telescopes and instrumentation?
The United States tops the list for salaries in astronomical telescopes and instrumentation, followed by Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Rank Country Median Salary
1 United States $125,068
2 Germany $109,295
3 Canada $98,214
4 Netherlands $97,151
5 Australia $81,866
6 Chile $74,817
7 United Kingdom $61,288
8 France $55,862
9 Spain $48,575
10 Japan $48,131
11 Italy $42,504
12 Mexico $20,384


What’s the one job skill that workers would like to improve?
Survey takers were asked the question “If you could improve one job-related skill, which skill would you improve?” Technical skills and leadership/management abilities top the list.

Job-related Skill Workers Would Most Like to Improve Percentage
Technical skills (including math, coding, and analysis) 24%
Leadership/management 23%
Foreign language 13%
Public speaking/presentation 9%
Networking 9%
Self-confidence 8%
Writing 8%
Interpersonal abilities 4%
Other 3%


What kinds of engineering degrees are most popular?
About half of survey respondents are engineers (53%), trained in a variety of specialties.

Type of Engineering Degree Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Electrical 26% $81,742
Mechanical 20% $60,000
Optical 17% $114,796
Aerospace or aeronautical 12% $115,000
Computer science or engineering 11% $39,934
Engineering Physics 7% $65,577
Software 4% $123,867

These results suggest that students interested in astronomical telescopes and instrumentation can choose from a variety of engineering disciplines and find a fit within this community, though optical engineering looks like the best path towards higher earnings.

For more information on optics and photonics salaries, plus details on methods and sampling, visit the 2021 SPIE Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report. To learn about your colleagues' views on scientific priorities, funding, and other topics, visit our article on the National Academies' Decadal Survey.


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