5 mins read 07 Mar 2022

On The Ground At The 13th Australian Space Forum

Last week, Adelaide hosted the 13th Australian Space Forum with a number of new announcements made, as well as some great discussions about Australia's continued growth in the space sector. 

Credit: SASIC / Andy Thomas Space Foundation.

Last week, the Australian space community gathered at the Adelaide Convention Centre for the 13th Australian Space Forum, organised by the Andy Thomas Space Foundation. Many of the guests had come from interstate to attend the prestigious biannual event. Ever the loyalist, I was among the crowd at the Forum, absorbing knowledge and enthusiasm in spades throughout the day.

In the Exhibition Hall, there were more exhibitors than ever before. The booths were crewed by private companies, research organisations, universities and education organisations showcasing their projects, products and services. The recent growth in the Forum’s popularity was evident: according to the Andy Thomas Foundation, “From humble beginnings back in May of 2019 with a total of 27 exhibitors on display, to this year's 71, the Forum Exhibitor Area continues to showcase the best and brightest national and international space organisations.”

Credit: SmartSatCRC.

Local and international keynotes

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Enrico Palermo. Credit: Vi Tran.

At the opening session, we were first welcomed by the Premier of South Australia, the Honourable Steven Marshall MP, who announced his support for the establishment of the new Australian Space Manufacturing Hub right in Adelaide. That morning, the Federal Government pledged \$20 million dollars to the Hub under the Collaboration Stream of the \$1.3 billion dollar Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI). He left us with a memorable remark: “the growth of the space sector cannot be stopped.”

We also heard from The Honourable Melissa Price MP, Minister for Defence as well as Minister for Science and Technology, who fittingly announced a new unified strategy between the civilian and Defence sectors. The Space Strategic Update (SSU) would provide a vision through to the 2040s that will align efforts across the nation as Australia transitions into a globally leading space player. 

Her other exciting announcement was that partial cost recovery for launch applications will no longer be introduced and that the Federal Government was abolishing launch permit application fees entirely. This news would mean greater access to space for Australian launch providers and rocket companies.

Dr Enrico Palermo, the Head of the Australian Space Agency, reiterated the importance of a whole of government approach to the national space sector and reminded us of the importance of space to Earth. "We only need to look at the floods in NSW and QLD to know that we need the capability to observe in real-time", he remarked on the importance of Australia's Earth observation capabilities domestically and internationally.

We then received presentations by some international special guests. First was Lisa Campbell, President of the Canadian Space Agency, who acknowledged the many similarities between Australia and Canada, especially when it comes to climate, culture and our burgeoning space industries.

We also heard from Yves Doat, Head of the Estrack Stations & Infrastructure Section at the European Space Agency, who highlighted the already-strong collaborations between ESA and the Australian Space Agency. For example, back in April last year, it was announced that ESA, in cooperation with the Australian Space Agency, would construct a new 35-metre, deep-space dish antenna at its existing ground station in New Norcia, Western Australia.

A continuing focus on education

The life sciences panel at the forum. Credit: Vi Tran.

The Andy Thomas Space Foundation aims to support space education in Australia with financial support and the promotion of STEM. At this forum, the Foundation was proud to announce the inaugural Education Corridor, a row of booths within the Exhibition Hall dedicated specifically to education organisations. These exhibitors had been given a unique opportunity to present programs and experiences that they had developed to encourage and promote STEM studies across all education levels. One of the booths present was the Australian Space Discovery Centre (ASDC), the ‘visitor’s centre’ of the Australian Space Agency that had recently announced its 20,000th visitor since its doors opened in May of 2021. Also included in the corridor was Hamilton Secondary College, known for its Mike Roach Space Education Centre, its strong STEM focus, and its new planetarium which was completed in December last year.

The Foundation’s support for space and STEM education didn’t stop there. On the day before the Forum, the 2022 Education Fund was announced, totalling a value of more than $300,000 to create high-quality space education opportunities for students and researchers across Australia. This announcement followed the Prime Minister’s announcement of a major funding boost of more than $65 million to support new space initiatives, including sending another Australian on a future space mission.

The panel sessions of the day included a “Defence Space Update” which discussed the Defence approach to assuring Australia’s access to space, and a session on “Space Traffic Coordination Management” with international panellists which discussed the progress, challenges, and outlook on space traffic coordination and management from an expert perspective. 

Of course, I was most looking forward to the session on “Life Science Research Enabling Long-term Space Habitation”, chaired by Professor Matthew Gilliham. Joining him on the stage was Dr Gordon Cable, a specialist in aerospace medicine working at the Royal Australian Air Force, as well as international panellists from a variety of life sciences fields. It was fascinating to hear about the work that these experts were doing to study and grow food that was nutritious, safe and sustainable for off-Earth use.

With over 900 delegates attending in-person and virtually, the 13th Forum was another enormous success. It has been a delight and a privilege to see the event expand in the number of registrations and exhibitors every six months, and the panel sessions continue to keep up with present trends and challenges. I was particularly glad to see a wide variety of exhibitors and session topics, as well as reunite with my friends and colleagues from interstate.

The 14th Forum will be in October this year. I expect you will be hearing from me again. Over and out!