6 mins read 11 Oct 2022

Women of the Australian Space Community: Helen Tung

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.

Helen Tung, International space lawyer and Founder of NewSpace2060. 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 women in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.  

Helen Tung, International space lawyer and Founder of NewSpace2060

What is your role?

I am an international space lawyer and also the Founder of NewSpace2060. My goal is to inspire, empower and grow the new space ecosystem, through knowledge sharing, training and coaching.

NewSpace2060 aims to bring together new space innovators and startups. Through talks, workshops, podcasts, webinars, seminars and events, I engage entrepreneurs, business people, investors and like-minded individuals to grow and empower the NewSpace community. I have worked with startups including Spiral Blue and Astroscale. 

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

I joined Space Generation Advisory Council, attending UNOOSA and then attended Singularity University (Santa Clara, California), where I spent 3 months at NASA Ames. Having worked on a failed satellite propulsion startup, I then realised there was a market gap for entrepreneurs, i.e the need to respect contracts, have business ethics and proper governance structures. 

I am also fortunate and grateful to have had leadership and proactive roles in various organisations including the IAF, Space Alliance, Moon Village Association and other NGOs as well as advising numerous startups. To answer what drew me to space, I think it was the other way around, that Space chose me. By that I mean, when there are clear gaps in the market, and you have an entrepreneurial spirit, one can see the opportunity as it arises so organically and naturally.

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?

There are 3 tips I would give: 1. Be hungry, 2. Be curious and 3. find your passion. 

By hunger I mean, going for it with determination and a sense of urgency; by curiosity, I mean being creative in the thought process and in true entrepreneurial spirit- learning by doing, as to having a presupposed mindset of how things ought to be done; and finally, do what you love or are passionate about, because it will pull you through the tough times.

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

One of my greatest mentors is Gary Martin, former Partnerships Director at NASA and who later went on to be one of the instrumental advisors for the Luxembourg Space Agency. I brought him in as an advisor to the failed satellite propulsion startup and he advised me accordingly to study at the International Space University which allowed me to open my eyes and horizons. There are many people we meet along the way who impact us positively, and so I am so grateful for all of them.  

Candace Johnson is the Founder/Co-Founder of SES ASTRA and SES Global as well as Chair of Advisory Board and Partner of Seraphim Space Fund, Vice Chair of NorthStar Earth and Space, and Non-Executive Director of SES-imagotag. Credit: EBAN.

Which women in the history of the Space Industry do you look up to? What was it about their achievements that resonated with you?

There are so many amazing women that I admire, I particularly respect Candace Johnson as she really for me lit up the skies and brought satellite to Europe. As a role model with immense experience and genuine in her approach and ideas, I think her achievements are so incredible as to how she changed not just a nation, but the world.   

I can resonate with Candace, because having gone to both Singularity University and International Space University, it's important to think outside of our comfort zone and think in the realm of possibilities. If we consider what is impossible as possible that changes our points of reference when we talk about space missions and tasks at hand. I think having a vision and dream is just as important. For me, my mission with NewSpace2060 and as in my personal life vision is to positively impact each and every person I engage with - it's that simple!

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 self-doubt is a big one. There are many inspiring entrepreneurs and startups and I think it's important to know the space sector needs all the skill sets and professions to build a truly holistic and thriving new space economy. 

In other words, we can't just have engineers to build an ecosystem! The shift in mentality and how we approach problems can also provide invaluable opportunities so rather than think about what one lacks, think about what one can contribute.

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

One of the competitions I co-curated with the Moon Village Association was the International Moon Pitch competition. It was launched in 2018 to 2019 and it was an opportunity to engage young people, and entrepreneurs to send in a 3 min pitch as to why we should go to the moon and what we would do there. 

The experience showed me that people are genuinely interested an engaged, from starting with nothing to getting architectural firms sponsoring prizes, to blockchain engagements, to finding many mentors and huge interest from all stakeholders. That was a highlight for me.

What has been the highlight of your career so far or what are you looking forward to most in the future?

Launching NewSpace2060 has been a highlight and coaching entrepreneurs is one of the greatest joys in my work. One example is of SpiralBlue, I still remember the day we were working on the blank Canvas and I shared ideas with Taofiq Huq (Founder and CEO of Spiral Blue) so that he could consider tracking piracy and went on to do brilliantly. There are many examples of how I work with entrepreneurs with a methodology I use to guide and empower entrepreneurs to be on their best path.

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

I think the Australian Space industry has massive potential, especially in relation to space and incorporating knowledge with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' historical value and understanding of the land. This understanding can be interpreted and transitioned to Moon and Mars exploration and how we live on the land there.