4 mins read 07 Apr 2021

The 11th Australian Space Forum: a behind-the-scenes recount

It was a big week for space in Australia as members of the space community gathered together for the 11th Australian Space Forum.

The auditorium. Credit: The Andy Thomas Space Foundation (Twitter: @AndyThomasSpace)

Held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, the forum was a long-awaited opportunity to make new connections and meet with old ones after over a year of uncertainty and isolation. The last physical space forum had been in February of 2020, just before the world had descended into chaos. Even still, delegates who could not attend this time were given the option to join in virtually and interact via the forum app.

Having not missed a space forum since 2017, I was pleased to notice how much the biannual event had expanded over the past few years. What was once an ambling trickle of attendees had become a buzzing crowd of 1200, and what was once a row of a dozen pull-up banners along a wall had now become a hall of colourful booths from government bodies, industry partners and not-for-profit organisations. Among these was The Andy Thomas Space Foundation, the primary organiser of the forum.

The exhibition hall. Credit: Will Anthony (Twitter: @sinmerchant)

A keynote from guests on Earth and beyond

At the opening session, we were warmly welcomed by the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and the Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall, both of whom have been greatly supportive of the growth of the national space industry. Dr Enrico Palermo gave his first forum address as the new Head of the Space Agency, acknowledging the work of entrepreneurs and startups including Fleet Space, Gilmour Space and Southern Launch, which had welcomed him to their facilities soon after he was appointed.

But they weren’t the only VIPs: we were also virtually greeted by Dr Andy Thomas AO, the Adelaide-born retired NASA astronaut after whom the foundation was named.  And if that wasn’t enough, his wife and ‘fellow space traveller’ Dr Shannon Walker had prepared a video from her temporary home on the International Space Station, highlighting the importance of research in microgravity and wishing us well for the day ahead.

Shannon Walker shares a greeting in the opening session. Credit: Australian Science Media Centre (Twitter: AusSMC)

The launch of the Australian Space Discovery Centre

Perhaps the main talk of the town was the new Australian Space Discovery Centre (ASDC), officially unveiled by the Prime Minister that morning. Located in Lot Fourteen in Adelaide next to the Australian Space Agency headquarters, the ASDC is the interface between the Agency and the public and takes the form of a museum, meeting room, theatrette and function area all in one.

Within the Discovery Centre also lies the Mission Control Centre, also known as the Responsive Space Operations Centre (RSOC), built by Saber Astronautics. The RSOC has been designed for full command and control of spacecraft, having the ability to actively monitor the space environment. It will also enable companies to conduct pre-flight testing of satellites and track their payloads in orbit.

Throughout the day, I had the opportunity to speak to some of the staff at the Australian Space Agency booth and the other VIPs who had already toured the ASDC. Without exception, each one of these delegates had a child-like excitement in their eyes while talking about the new Discovery Centre, which made me all the more eager to visit it myself when it opens to the public in May.

The space gallery in the Australian Space Discovery Centre will be a source of inspiration for the young and young at heart. Credit: Australian Space Agency

A special day for the RAAF

The day of the forum was also the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Fittingly, the Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, chose this day to announce that the RAAF would plan to establish a ‘space command’ in collaboration with the Army and the Navy given the growing global competition for supremacy in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

In an interview with the ABC, Air Marshal Hupfeld commented that the space command will “allow us to establish an organisation to sustain, force-generate, operate space capabilities and assign them to a joint operation command if needed.”

Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld says it is high time for the Australian Defence Force to develop a space command. Credit: ABC

Overall, the 11th Australian Space Forum was an enormous success. I am thankful that we were able to gather together to share our common interests in space, STEM, entrepreneurship and exploration, and I have no doubt that the biannual event will continue to expand and welcome more delegates from all walks of life. 

See you in September for the next Forum!