7 mins read 13 Mar 2023

Women of the Australian Space Community: Alison Akhurst

Women play a huge role in the Australian space sector, and each week will be sharing the story of an inspiring woman who makes our community so special.

Alison Akhurst - Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering Student and Launch Vehicles Intern, Gilmour Space Technologies Credit - Supplied.

In March each year, we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but also enjoy learning about all the contributions women have made to society during Women’s History Month. Originally started in the US in 1987, it has in recent times, in part due to social media, become more well-known across the world. 

As a celebration of all the wonderful work, inspiration and support that women across our region do in the space sector, will be speaking to a new woman in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.

Alison Akhurst - Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering Student and Launch Vehicles Intern, Gilmour Space Technologies

What is your role?

I am in the earliest stages of my career. I am a second-year Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering student from UTS who is currently engaging in a 6-month internship with Gilmour Space Technologies. 

Gilmour Space is a Queensland-based, company that is building and launching Australian-made satellites and rockets to space. My role within the company is a launch vehicles intern, so currently, I am engaging with systems engineering approval and testing milestones. 

It’s such an incredible time to be working with the team because we’re at the stage where we are pulling everything together from all our different teams, from across a range of disciplines. As a young engineer in the industry, I am gaining incredible insight into the space industry and also getting to explore all the opportunities available to me.

How did you end up working in the space sector and what drew you to it?

I ended up working in the space sector after sending an email to a brilliant Australian businesswoman. From here I was introduced to the team at Blackbird Venture Capital and through them, I was able to engage with Gilmour Space Technologies. 

The space sector was always something that I thought was out of reach for me as a young Australian engineer. So many of the incredible stories about space technology and the aerospace industry come from big industry in the USA and Europe. 

That’s what made receiving the email about the opportunity to work with Gilmour Space all the more exciting. It wasn’t a farfetched dream, it was real. So, I put my life into my car and drove up to the Gold Coast from Sydney to embark on one of the most extraordinary adventures of my life!

What advice would you give to people looking to start their career in the Australian space Industry, whether they are new graduates or those looking to move their careers over?

This is definitely a funny one for me to be answering as I am so new to the industry myself, but I think the advice I would give to anyone looking to pursue a career in the Australian Space Industry would be to be bold and take opportunities when they arise. If you have the opportunity to go to networking events or to engage with industry, take them. 

It is also something I would say to a younger version of myself. It’s easy to sometimes let the self-doubt slip in and stop you from making those bolder moves but when you gain the courage to take those big leaps, it opens so many doors. It may even lead you somewhere incredible but completely unexpected and beyond anything you ever could have imagined.

Who have you met that has had the most impact on your career journey so far?

There are so many people who have had a huge part in shaping me into the young engineer I am today. All my high school teachers, my university peers and previous mentors. But I think if I had to pick anyone it would be the team at Gilmour Space, and specifically my current mentor. 

As a second-year university student moving into this industry having only ever been a debating coach, it was incredibly intimidating because this is my first time truly engaging with, and working in, industry. To have a mentor whose passion is nothing short of contagious and who creates such a fun and dynamic learning environment while continuing to challenge me is something really incredible. This environment has also solidified the feeling that I belong in the industry which I think is something so powerful, especially for a young engineer like myself.

What do you think are some of the issues faced by women in the space sector and how do you think they should be resolved?

I think the issues faced by women in the space sector closely reflect the issues present across so many areas of STEM. Things like feeling isolated, lack of mentorship within industry and lacking confidence are huge challenges for so many women in general, but especially in male-dominated industries. I think the key to resolving these issues has to be both a top-down and grassroots change. 

We need to see more women appearing in high-level management positions and creating positive changes in the ways in which companies or teams function. It is also of equal importance for young women to be taught from a young age that they have a place in STEM fields. I was lucky enough to have experienced these positive benefits of an education that always presented STEM a career option for us as young women. 

I already know so many of my cohort who have moved into STEM-based degrees thanks to the guidance and continued efforts of the Brigidine Science and Maths Departments. Although we are starting to see changes happening at both ends of the spectrum, I think it is so important to keep the momentum going because there is still much work to be done! 

What has been your most interesting discovery or the most interesting space-related project you have worked on or been part of?

Since I am so new to the industry, I have really only worked on Gilmour’s Eris project. That being said, I am so fortunate to have my introduction to the space sector to be with a project like this. Adding to that fact that, since we are making and designing so many of the components in-house, I get to truly see the project come together. I am still adjusting to the fact that every day I am just casually walking past all the components for something that will end up in space one day! 

What are you most excited about in the coming years for the Australian Space Industry?

I am so excited to see Australia’s Space Industry become a world contender. Currently, it is so much smaller than the industries we see in America and Europe. We are already making huge progress in not only the design but also the manufacturing of space technologies. It will be so exciting to watch this growth continue, and eventually to see Australia becoming an integral part of the global space community.