5 mins read 29 Mar 2023

Women of the Australian Space Community: Kelly Barlow

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.

Kelly Barlow - Commercial Consultant / Manager with Satellite Communications Operations in Chief Information Officer Group. (Supplied).

In March each year we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but we 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.

Kelly Barlow - Commercial Consultant / Manager with Satellite Communications Operations in Chief Information Officer Group

What is your role? 

I am a Commercial Consultant / Manager with Satellite Communications Operations in Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG).

I have spent my entire career (both APS and the last few years as a Consultant) working in Defence. I started in Land Systems in Melbourne working on the ASLAV, M113 and Bushranger before moving to Queensland to work on the KC-30A and finally Canberra with P8-A, Air 7003 and now Satellite Communications.

I am the manager of a small team who manages all commercial arrangements for satellite services and the provision of specialist military equipment for Defence. This involves managing current arrangements and negotiating new contractual activities, ensuring continued services are delivered to the warfighter. Due to the niche nature, size and value of the arrangements in place, the team is quite often required to submit to Investment Committees and submissions to the Minister and Prime Minister.

Working in an operational environment means we are quite often tasked with emerging requirements, requiring expedited solutions which keeps my team on our toes.

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

I believe my entire career has been slowly leading me to work in space. I started in Defence, working on large, well-established land systems platforms and have moved on to progressively high-value and more complex platforms and environments.

I was working in another area of Defence and was looking for a change when I saw a commercial role advertised and thought ‘buying satellites isn’t that different to buying planes, right?’.

I was fortunate enough to be successful in the role, which introduced me to a number of highly intelligent and passionate people. I instantly knew that working with these people, and in this environment was where I wanted to be, and I have not looked back.

 The challenges involved with ‘Space’ is truly quite rewarding.

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

I have been in the privileged position to have spent the last two and a half years working with an amazing team of women whom I look up to; who have all been instrumental in ensuring Australia’s Defence capabilities in space are maintained.

Working closely with Squadron Leader Rebecca Olsen, who encouraged me to push the boundaries, not take no for an answer and encouraged me to be a true catalyst has been remarkable.

I have also learnt a lot from Jen Whitehead whose insatiable appetite for knowledge and unrelenting drive has given me the determination to ‘be better’.

I also look up to any person in the space industry who doesn’t accept the status quo, who pushes the boundaries and who seeks to discover the art of the possible. The space environment calls for personalities who do not shy away from risks.

Looking historically, Florence McKenzie, who we have a photo of in the office, has inspired a lot of the people who in turn inspire me, to be resilient in the face of adversity and be unwavering in their belief in what they are achieving.

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

I am looking forward to seeing the innovations the Space sector comes up with and the ability for nations to work closely with Industry to benefit from this. For example the ability for Mission Extensions Vehicles to extend the life of ageing spacecraft, retrieve ‘dead’ satellites that are returning from the graveyard orbit, and hopefully creating a platform to clean up the space junk littering space.

I will be curious to see how the advancements in space affect international relations, and specifically international legislation surrounding the use of space; specifically with the crowding in low earth orbit and whether there will be legislative amendments to counter this emerging problem.

I am also excited to see how Australia’s space industry grows. I believe there is a lot of expertise within Australia that can shine a light on the great work the local industry is achieving.

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

I am looking forward to delivering to the future warfighter a capability that provides them with seamless global satellite communications through the delivery of next-generation technology.