6 mins read 20 Feb 2020

SA Space Forum showcasing Australian Industry Growth

Our review of the 9th SA Space Forum, where the Australian space industry showcased proud growth at Adelaide-based industry event, highlighting advancement in the commercial space sector.

The Australian space industry has come together to showcase and celebrate growth in a large number of areas at the sold-out 9th Space Forum, hosted by South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC) in Adelaide on Wednesday.

The bi-annual South Australian (SA) event, which attracts a variety of space industry stakeholders – such as start-ups, established space businesses, industry specialists and heavy-weight Defence Prime companies, focused on the growth of the Australian space sector along with national and international trends, R&D, education and access to space.

Special guests at the event included Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Industry and Science Karen Andrews, SA Premier Steven Marshall, Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr. Megan Clark, President of the Italian Space Agency, Dr. Giorgio Saccoccia and Dr. Christyl Johnson – Deputy Director (technology and research investments) of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

The day began with the Australian Space Agency officially opening its headquarters in a ribbon-cutting event by the Prime Minister, Minister of Industry, SA Premier and Space Agency head, at LotFourteen – the dedicated entrepreneurial hub in the heart of Adelaide city.

Special dignitaries then made their way over to the SASIC space forum event at the Adelaide convention centre, for opening introductions before an emotional Mr Nicola Sasanelli described how the event has grown over the last four years – from a small group of 80 industry attendees to over a sold-out crowd of over a thousand.

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr. Megan Clark showcased the progress made by the agency, including a $1.6 billion civil space capital pipeline as at December 2019, generated from 170 space-related projects across Australia.

This was followed by a special announcement from the President of the Italian Space Agency, Dr. Giorgio Saccoccia, who referred to Australia’s newly established industry as “our little sister” – pledging to fund the launch of an Australian payload on a European rocket, to the International Space Station.

Research and Development

Dr. Christyl Johnson facilitating the R&D panel.

Dr. Kimberly Clayfield discusses the CSIRO’s role in the space industry.

The first panel to kick off the day focused on R&D. Facilitated by NASA’s Dr. Christyl Johnson, the panel featured a robust discussion on innovative thinking and strategic partnership across the Australian space ecosystem.

“Earth Observation (EO) arena is an example of economic value and viability" for space businesses/industries to grow,” said Bruno Versini, COO of E-Geos Telespazio, highlighting how the rapid shifting in satellite technologies (e.g. CubeSats) was making EO much more attainable to wider audiences, through significant reductions in barriers to entry.

Dr. Kimberly Clayfield from the CSIRO discussed how Australian’s national science agency is working on Earth Observation national water quality monitoring system - and how this benefits marine health, tourism, agriculture and of course critical water supply.

The panel ended with a very touching account from Dr. Christyl Johnson, an engineer herself, on how all NASA teams’ regrouped after the Columbia Shuttle accident (2003) galvanising the Australian space community to be prepared to take risks, make mistakes and learn as part of the innovation cycle of growth.


Education panel discussing opportunities for young people to get involved in space.

Vi Tran responds to a question about education programs.

Following on from R&D, the next panel discussion focused on the space industry’s role in education programs, facilitated by the Australian Space Agency’s Deputy Head, Anthony Murfett.

The panel featured the Australian Government's Women in STEM Ambassador, Prof. Lisa Harvey-Smith; Michael Pakakis, Director Victorian Space Science Education Centre; Peta Kourbelis, Principal of Hamilton Secondary College; Dr. Graham Durant, Director from @questacon and Vi Tran, from Space Australia and Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program.

"Sharing stories not just about the achievements, but also about the contributions - the many great leaps that all participants made to get to that point," said Prof. Harvey-Smith.

"We have to create opportunities to enrich what happens in schools. Space 2.0 students are life-long learners, and we need to think about this journey" said Dr. Graham Durant, Director from Questacon who was also on the Panel.

"Maths and science are isolated education programs, we need to bring them together into projects that make them more real-world," said Peta Kourbelis who is the Principal of Hamilton Secondary College – a dedicated space school.

The panel also featured’s own Vienna (Vi) Tran – who is currently studying space medicine as part of her Honours degree.

“Space is for everyone, no matter where you come from... space unites us, no matter our creed,” she said.

Access To Space

Access to space panel, featuring Carley Scott and Adam Gilmour. Credit: FIXEeffect

Access to space panel, featuring Carley Scott, Adam Gilmour, Blake Nikolic and Lloyd Damp. Credit: FIXEeffect.

The last panel of the day featured a cast of inspiring and innovative Australian’s – pushing the boundaries in launching rockets from Australian soil. Hosted by SASIC CEO, Richard Price, the panel included Dr. Lloyd Damp, CEO of SouthernLaunch; Carley Scott (ACECD) CEO Equatorial Launch Australia; Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space Technology; and Blake Nikolic, CEO of Black Sky Aerospace.

The panel discussed the opportunities, risks and regulatory restrictions of developing three launch platforms in Australia (Equatorial Launch Australia is establishing a facility in the Northern Territory, whilst Southern Launch is complementing with two SA-based facilities).

"Launch is so inspiring and ignites the imagination. Australia is also an excellent place for launch/investment" said Carley Scott.

“The three key reasons for launch right now are jobs, inspiring future generations, and national pride” added Lloyd Damp.

Discussing an advantage of Australia’s agility to develop regulation with industry growth, Adam Gilmour commented on the learnings from the US system, “If we're not making major changes to our launch vehicles or even if we are changing the launch facility, it should not require a whole new level of approval (like the US model)” he said.

Carley Scott echoed the panel’s sentiment that building launch facilities in Australia are going to benefit the entire space industry and its supply chains, "There are customers coming to launch companies and saying - we want to launch from Australia - which is a really good thing" she said.

This year’s lifetime membership award was presented to Michael Davis AO, who has worked with space industry bodies on programs like the International Astronomical Union event in 2017.

“We were able to unite the Australian space community for IAU2017. Success for our industry will involve standing together” said Mr Davis, as he accepted his award from veteran Space Shuttle astronaut, Dr. Andy Thomas.

Notable at the 9th Space Forum event this year was the increasing number of attendees, in addition to the minimal Defence Industry presence during presentations. At past events, several uniformed-personnel have been a part of the on-stage discussions, though this year it was not the case. During discussions with attendees, most indicated that this was due to the space industry starting to shift towards the civilian sector.

The 10th SASIC Space Forum event will be held in Adelaide in December 2020.