4 mins read 21 Sep 2021

The 12th Australian Space Forum: On Review

The Andy Thomas Space Foundation has successfully delivered another forum for the Australian space community. 

The auditorium before the opening session. Credit: @researchinspace

The exhibition booths had been lit and the air was abuzz with the grind of coffee machines. Delegates and representatives ambled into the hall as early as eight o’clock, greeting each other mirthfully as if reuniting with old friends. This crowd could only be the Australian space community, as we had gathered once again for the 12th Australian Space Forum.

In the several months prior, the Andy Thomas Space Foundation had been working hard behind the scenes to ensure the day would go smoothly. In July, the Foundation became the first not-for-profit entity in the Australian space sector that had been granted Deductible Gift Recipient (charity) status, a significant milestone that would help promote STEM education across Australia. With much of the country still in the grip of a pandemic, it was something like a miracle to be able to enjoy this forum at the Adelaide Convention Centre, knowing that many were tuning in virtually.

Tory Shepherd, journalist, stands between the founders of The Andy Thomas Space Foundation, Dr MIchael Davis OAM and A/Prof Nicola Sasanelli. Credit: ITA Sydney.

A satellite named Kanyini

At the opening session, we were first welcomed by the Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall, who reiterated his support for space activities and announced that the first South Australian satellite to be manufactured within the state finally had a name: Kanyini. The name was submitted by students from Findon High School in a statewide school competition. Kanyini is a Pitjantjatjara word that describes responsibility and love for all of creation. It fittingly symbolises how the satellite will help to tackle real-world problems on Earth by providing remote sensing and Earth observation data for environmental monitoring.

Previously named SASAT1, Kanyini will address environmental issues on Earth using Earth observation technologies. Credit: @eriitajones.

Next, Dr Enrico Palermo, the Head of the Australian Space Agency, highlighted the new developments in Australia’s space capabilities, as well as the Moon to Mars Trailblazer Program.

We were then treated to an address by NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Col. Pam Melroy, who emphasised the importance of bilateral cooperation between Australia and the United States. "We are all crew members of spaceship Earth", she reflected.

For the keynote address, Dr Shannon Walker, an active NASA astronaut and the wife of Dr Andy Thomas, joined us from her home in Houston, Texas. In her interview with journalist Tory Shepherd, she reminisced about her childhood dream of working in the space industry and encouraged the young generation to apply their passions to the space arena. “We are on such a cusp of a commercial space industry exploding across the world. There are so many opportunities. You can’t swing a bat around without hitting an opportunity,” she remarked.

NASA astronaut Dr Shannon Walker greets the delegates. Credit: @AusSMC.

Solving problems on Earth

During the plenary sessions, there was a strong focus on the real-world usefulness of space activities in orbit, and how the industry was set to grow over the coming years. Professor Sir Martin Sweeting from the UK introduced the first session and explained how Australia could build its expertise by facilitating collaboration between industry and academics. Continuing the theme of space applications, the afternoon session shed light on the social, environmental and economic opportunities enabled by Earth observation. The final session focused on remote operations for Earth and space.

Adrian Turner, CEO of Minderoo Fire & Flood Resilience Initiative, says already our fire seasons are 15% longer in Australia and the cost of natural disasters to put economy is expected to rise to $23b. Credit: SASIC.

Throughout the day, a recurring theme in conversations was how fortunate we were to be gathering in person. Even the mandatory face masks did not dampen our spirits as we meandered through the exhibition hall, elbow-bumping our colleagues and exchanging cards with new connections.

Despite the hall being half its usual size (with the other half being a designated seating area), the excitement was just as palpable among delegates, industry partners and not-for-profit organisations alike. For the first time, the Australian Space Agency booth was crewed by representatives from the Australian Space Discovery Centre, which recently celebrated its 10,000th visitor. Of the 56 booths in the hall, some of the other exhibitors included educational groups like Hamilton Secondary College Space School and the Makers Empire, as well as entrepreneurial companies like Aurora and Stone and Chalk. Southern Launch was ‘out for launch’, attempting another lift-off from Whalers Way in Port Lincoln that afternoon.

The Exhibition Hall. Credit: ITA Sydney.

The Australian Space Forum is a pioneering force and a firm testament to the energy and trepidation of our space industry. If there is one thing I can take away from this 12th iteration of our own biannual space gathering, it is that Australia’s space activities will be driven by our collective desire to push our limits while also making a difference on our home planet.

See you in March for the next Forum. Over and out!