Southern Space Symposium: speech by Enrico Palermo

Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo gave an address at the National Press Club as part of the Space Industry Association of Australia’s Southern Space Symposium on 29 November 2021.

Enrico reflected on his first year as Head of the Agency, as well as opportunities for improvement and growth in 2022.

Speech transcript

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we’re gathered today, the Ngunnawal people. I acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. I would also like to acknowledge other Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people who may be attending this symposium in person or virtually.

At the Australian Space Agency, this acknowledgement goes to the core of who we are.

Australia’s Indigenous people are essentially the world’s oldest astronomers. For thousands of years the sky has been critical to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in dictating seasonal activities around food and movement, and a reflection of what is happening on the land.

That’s why our Agency’s brand is inspired by Indigenous constellations.

But we’re also taking meaningful action to create opportunities for First Nation’s people extending beyond acknowledgement.

We proudly have agents who have come to us through the Indigenous Apprenticeship Program and we have an Indigenous Action Network embedded within our organisation.

Everyone, it is my great pleasure to address the Southern Space Symposium and I thank the Space Industry Association of Australia and their leadership for the opportunity.

How invigorating to be able to speak with many of you face to face again after several months.

In a year that so many in our sector have spent confined in our homes, it can be tough to maintain focus on opportunities away in space.

But I’m very proud to say that across the sector broadly, and at the Australian Space Agency we have kept delivering in the face of a global pandemic.

In fact, in many ways, the last 12 months have seen us reach new heights. I’ve highlighted several times this year the positive momentum in our sector – one only has to follow the weekly cadence of news from the Australian space sector to see this and be very excited in our future.

I am.

New private investment rounds, new partnerships domestically and internationally, technology maturing rapidly and new career opportunities for Australians in Australia that were once simply out of reach – that final part being something that I am particularly passionate about.

The formation of the Australian Space Agency in 2018 catalysed the nation around the opportunity space presents and we proudly celebrated our third birthday in July. Against the four pillars of our Strategy we’ve been working hard to create the right conditions to accelerate the growth of the sector.

Open doors internationally

On our pillar to open doors internationally, we’ve signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to see an Aussie-Made rover included in a future mission to the Moon … a major milestone for our nation. It’s encouraging to see this mission alongside commercial lunar Australian pursuits.

As we saw with Low Earth Orbit, new lunar science activities and commercial market opportunities are opening up rapidly and its important Australia has its seat at the table early.

While this was the most celebrated in the media, it’s just one example of how leveraging our international partnerships pays dividends for us here in Australia.

Another example is our UK Space Bridge agreement which is delivering practical benefits for Australian industry..

Increase national capability

To increase national capability, our second pillar, we’re seeing a number of projects, funded through the International Space Investment initiative and the Space Infrastructure Fund, finish and come to life – last week I joined two project close out calls and was inspired to see how these programs have transformed the recipients capability. This is alongside the Australian government’s investment in the Moon To Mars program in building supply chains and technology demonstrators.

Promisingly it’s not only the Australian Space Agency waving the flag for building national capability in the space sector within government.

We are seeing increasing recognition of the cross-cutting benefits of space.

We’ve seen $14 million injected into space projects under the first round of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.

Earlier this month, space was included as a priority in the Government’s Critical Technologies Blueprint and Action plan. It’s also being acknowledged as a key enabler by Home Affairs and Agriculture.

As an industry we have long known and advocated for the role in space across a broad array of areas – from keeping us safe and secure, to creating economic opportunities, to improving everyday life. It’s exciting to see others realise that opportunity too.

EO roadmap release

One area of space that ticks all those of boxes is Earth observation from space – that is using data acquired from satellites to provide detailed insights into Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems.

Earth Observation data has a meaningful impact on our everyday lives, in ways many people would not realise.

  • It is a critical resource for emergency services fighting our bushfires and responding to floods.
  • It helps us to grow our understanding of meteorology and better forecast weather events, including natural disasters. This is vital information for our aviation and shipping industries.
  • By tracking crop health and moisture levels, it helps our farmers to manage their land – getting better yields and more targeted application of fertilisers.
  • It helps us manage the environment. Using Earth observation to monitor and study our water quantity and quality, and our biodiversity.
  • It is central to our defence and national security services.

So today it is with great pleasure and excitement that the Agency proudly releases our Earth Observation from Space Roadmap.

This is the second in the series of roadmaps the Agency is delivering – one for each priority area in our Civil Space Strategy.

Developed with the support of many people in this room and around the nation from across industry, government and the research community – this Roadmap outlines a 10-year plan and strategic direction to support growth of the Australian space sector for Earth observation.

It provides a map for industry to coordinate and build world-leading capabilities and technologies that support jobs and critical services into the future.

The Roadmap includes five focus segments that are areas of significant opportunity for Australia. Development pathways and facilitating measures for each focus segment are identified.

To help build national heritage and access to secure data, there are also new opportunities for industry to expand Earth observation satellite design and manufacturing activities.

At the Agency we can support building industry-led Earth observation activities by facilitating international collaborations for scientific and supply chain participation.

This Roadmap is now published on our website space.gov.au and will also be accessible through our social media channels.

Work is continuing on the remainder of the roadmaps, which we anticipate will be delivered by mid next year.

These roadmaps will help you as industry harness your energy into areas of identified opportunities and problems to solve. To investors listening today, the Agency’s roadmaps are developed through a methodical process, are well researched, and highlight key areas to invest with confidence.

As validation of that statement, the focus segments identified in our previously released Communications Technologies and Services roadmap such as Low Earth Orbit satellite services including IoT, quantum enabled communications, and optical ground stations have received hundreds of millions of dollars of investment internationally in the past year.

I encourage you all to download our Earth Observation from space roadmap and join our future webinar.

Thank you to everyone that brought this to fruition – we couldn’t have done this without you. In particular I would like to acknowledge our steering committee partners at Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and Defence, participants in our Technical Advisory Group and of course the Australian Space Agency team.

Promote responsible regulation, risk management and culture

On our third pillar, promoting a responsible sector, we are delivering on our mission to grow the launch sector here in Australia with an expanded regulatory team so we can accelerate processing of applications.

This resulted in the signing of the first launch facility licenses and first launch permit under the new Act, followed by the first commercial launch attempt.

Excitingly, we know that this is just the beginning with many lessons learned, providing opportunities for continued improvement. I will return to that later as we look to 2022.

Inspire and build a future workforce

Our final pillar, Inspire, is arguably one of our most important. The Australian Space Discovery Centre has opened its doors, inspiring both young and old. It is already well on its way to becoming a must-see landmark in South Australia, with 16,000 visitors so far, and we look forward to taking that experience nationwide through our partner at Questacon.

Reflections on first year and looking ahead

Let’s move to reflections on my first year as Head of the Agency and looking ahead.

We are in Phase 3 of executing the Australian Civil Space Strategy. Our stated goal is tripling the size of the sector to $12 billion and creating an extra 20,000 jobs by 2030.

An important goal and one that sits front of my mind as I lead the Australian Space Agency forward.

As I approach the end of my first year as head of the Agency, ten months in, I do so with an immense sense of pride.

I am fortunate to lead an exceptional team of hard-working and passionate agents and I must express my gratitude for everything they bring, day in, day out. It is a growing team and we have added a lot of depth to our ranks in recent months.

But while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved collectively, which is a lot since formation of the Agency, I’ve also observed areas of improvement and opportunity. These will need to be addressed as we head into 2022 if we’re going to collectively achieve the results we want.

Cohesion

Cohesion. One of the first areas where we can and must improve is in our cohesiveness as a sector. We need to all start pulling in the same direction – leveraging each other’s advantages and capabilities to drive us forward.

I’ll be blunt. Having spent much of my working life in the US, I did not appreciate how parochial Australia can be at times … both between states and organisations.

We need better coordination of investments and strategies across states and territories. Without working in unison we risk duplicating investment and efforts.

Likewise, we need to identify and break down barriers that may prevent organisations from working together.

But the need to improve collaboration extends well beyond companies or state borders. We have more to do across Government, particularly to align more visibly our civil and defence space strategies.

We have heard your feedback about the need to understand the complete integrated pipeline of opportunity that exists within Australia.

The planned investments in space capabilities by Defence present monumental opportunities for Australian industry – but we are simply not ready yet to support these at the level required to provide the high end systems the ADF of the 2030s will need to shape, deter and respond.

But – we can be. I’m very confident in that if we take the appropriate steps now.

There are already encouraging efforts being made to bridge the gap, often behind the scenes.

Internally at the Agency we have embedded staff from Defence, which enhances communication and collaboration. Several priority areas between Defence and civil space are clearly already aligned.

But we can and must do more. The Agency is determined to stand up and lead on this – and provide you as an Industry with a space blueprint that is truly national and unified.

It’s in all of our interests to get this right.

Urgency and investment

Another observation is the need to move with an increased sense of urgency. Opportunities for Australia in space are ripe for the picking but we need to accelerate.

Other countries are investing aggressively and we need to see a similar intensity here in Australia if we’re going to keep up.

Put simply, we need to attract more investment into the Australian space sector.

The availability of capital is not the issue. Our challenge is to demonstrate to the private sector that we’re a smart investment of that capital.

We know we can further optimise investment by Government to unleash the private sector and support Australian businesses to achieve scale.

As part of that, I’ve begun conversations with venture capitalists and other private investors about what we can do to help set the right conditions.

We already know what many of the barriers are, but by engaging with investors we can really unlock the challenges and use all the tools of government to address them.

Launch regulations and TSA

As the next observation, one of those barriers to investment, particularly from overseas, is the need to make Australia an internationally competitive and desirable place for launch.

2021 has seen us make significant strides in this area.

As I mentioned earlier, we have devoted more talented resources to our regulatory arm.

Importantly too we have been through a full cycle of our regulations under the new act, from licensing a spaceport, permitting a launch and carrying out a launch attempt. This is critical for building confidence, learning and doing things better in the future, and so we can work on specific issues and not just generic feedback.

As an Agency we know we need to keep evolving our regulatory framework to make it more competitive and see more launches happening from Australian shores.

Our geographical advantages and stable political environment will only take us so far – we must continue to demonstrate that we are taking the necessary steps to make us a desirable and responsible place to launch.

Creating launch opportunities opens the full value chain of space activities in ways that would otherwise not happen.

The momentum is there and the excitement is truly palpable.

As Head of the Agency I share the excitement and enthusiasm for launch here in Australia.

We must ensure that what we are creating is truly sovereign launch capability.

Now of course that does not mean only Australian companies launching. We all know that space is a global effort and requires collaboration across nations.

But what I do mean – and what we must guarantee – is that any agreements we reach ensure Australia maintains appropriate control of its launch capabilities.

We need to protect the interests of Australian space companies and give them as much latitude as we can to collaborate – so they can grow and create jobs here in Australia.

As an Agency we make no apology for remaining calm as we negotiate with international partners, because the foundational agreements we strike now will shape the Australian sector for the next decade and beyond.

As we remove unnecessary barriers and promote innovation, investment and entrepreneurship, we must always do it with the big picture and long term in mind, as well as staying true to our position as a responsible space nation.

Risk appetite

But the opportunities will not always result in perfect outcomes.

The next observation is that if we are to grow as a space-faring nation, we must enhance our risk appetite and be prepared to see some opportunities fail.

To boldly go to space requires accepting risks that things may not always go to plan. Indeed, when it comes to innovation, there is a fine line between success and what some might deem as failure on first glance.

Entrepreneurs have long understood the importance and necessity of safe experimentation. Failure is embraced as a necessary part of the innovation process because from failure comes learning, iteration and adaptation.

As we continue on this journey, we must accept that the Australian space industry and its businesses will encounter setbacks as well as successes. That is part of the innovation cycle.

Return to international

It is also my priority in 2022 for the Agency to return to the international stage with vigour. Due to border restrictions our presence at international symposia has been relatively muted in the last two years. This is a problem as space is an international business.

As borders re-open – hopefully given this week’s events – our return to the international stage will be evident through events like the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and the IAC.

Excitingly for Colorado Springs, we are partnering with Team Defence Australia and Austrade in a major way.

We plan to have a large physical presence to showcase what Australia is capable of in the space domain and how we can further collaborate with our international partners.

This will be the first major international event I will have the opportunity to attend in person since beginning in this role … and demonstrating the synergies between the civil space sector and defence will be top of mind.

But the return to the international stage extends well beyond the attendance at conferences and industry events.

It’s about raising the voice of Australia in important international discussions and decision making around space.

Our active participation in the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or UN COPUOUS, provides us with an important platform for broader engagement on the sustainable use of space.

Guided by our nation’s experts in international space law, some in the room here today and some on staff at the Agency and on our Advisory Board, Australia should leverage its moderate and respected voice, alongside our international partners, to start to transition the world from broadly principle based treaties to specific enabling legislation or rules that provide clarity and confidence, while supporting the long term sustainability of outer space.

More targeted agreements like AUKUS between Australia, the UK and US and the Quad with India, Japan and the US present even further opportunity to shape the way we use space.

They will provide great opportunities for nations with shared values to work together on solutions to complex problems for the peaceful uses of outer space.

Workforce development

However as my next observation, there is little point in creating opportunities if the sector does not have the skilled workforce it needs to take advantage of them.

That’s why we must double-down on our efforts around workforce development as we execute Phase 3 of the Strategy.

As a returning Australian myself, I’d like to see even more Aussie expats make their way home. There are opportunities – and we need to communicate that a meaningful career in space can be achieved right here on home soil.

I’m heartened by the work being done by the Global Talent Attraction Taskforce to do just that … but luring home expats or the best and brightest skilled migrants will not be enough.

We need to support our universities in creating opportunities and providing industry relevant training for the space sector. Space programs at Curtin University, the University of Sydney, University of Southern Queensland, Swinburne University, and UNSW and ANU here in Canberra, and other great research institutions around the nation, are prime examples to support and emulate to develop the next generation of workers.

But it’s not just our universities. Our vocational education providers have an important role to play as well. Many of the careers that need to be filled now and into the future require the hands-on learning of places like our TAFES. We need space apprentices, we need space tradies.

We also have a responsibility to ensure that the workforce we are creating is diverse.

That’s why as an Agency we’re fortunate to have professionals like Australia’s Women in STEM ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith on our Advisory Board advising us on ways to improve gender diversity – not just internally but across the sector.

The Agency’s Inspire pillar is really about more than inspiration – it’s an economic imperative. We need to be encouraging our young people to study STEM subjects right through high school and beyond.

You’d be hard pressed to find a six or seven-year-old who is not totally in awe of space. What we need to do is maintain that awe and interest through high school and into tertiary education. At the Agency and as a sector, we have a profound responsibility to leverage the inspiration that space provides for the future prosperity of the nation – as graduates of STEM courses, for example, are needed in all sectors of the economy.

Bring space to the nation

Which brings me to another fundamental challenge and observation that we need to address.

We must continue to bring space to the nation – to remind Australians of the ways in which space is central to our everyday life … how it has the potential to further improve our lives … and how it keeps us safe and secure.

Those of us in the room have drunk the cool aid. We get why but we must never stop telling other people.

We are at a critical juncture.

Space has never been more important to our way of life and is only growing as an economic opportunity.

There seems to be a space activity in the news every other day but there’s also a resurgence of people questioning the investment, prosecuting that our energy and investment should be focused on climate solutions here on Earth.

It’s our job as an industry to explain the benefits – and to dispel some of the myths and expectations that are mismatched to where a commercial space sector can play and its importance to measures such as climate change.

Space is not about vanity or ego – it’s about the well documented opportunity and benefits that come from the peaceful use of outer space.

We must continue to take the nation on the journey and never miss an opportunity to remind people of the importance of what we do. As Australians we also need to highlight the cost of us not matching up internationally and being left behind.

As an Agency we are renewing our focus on communicating the benefits and opportunities of space – both to inspire and increase understanding.

But it’s incumbent on all of us to remember why we do what we do … and to spread the message. Help us with that.

Conclusion

Colleagues, as we look ahead we should do so in the knowledge that our sector is growing and the future is bright.

The momentum I cited earlier is definitely in the right direction, however we need to go faster and audaciously pursue our opportunities leveraging our best talent, ingenuity and spirit.

Space is an international endeavour and industry, a fiercely competitive one and one built on strong partnerships.

Our activity and investment needs to keep pace with our partners and competitors overseas if we are going to maximise the opportunity for Australia in the years to come.

2022 is a critical turning point in our space future and will be defining for where our sector is in the 2030s and beyond. Action, investments and decisions we take now impacts the decades ahead.

We will be only limited by our scale of ambition, our risk appetite, how we market ourselves to investors and the public, and our cohesion as a sector and ecosystem.

Priority wrap up

As we head into 2022 we do so with a laser focus and a clear set of priorities.

  • We will improve cohesion and enhance collaboration – with the Space Agency leading a unified effort to align the civil space sector and defence, and across states and territories.
  • We will work to lure greater private investment.
  • We will further enhance our regulations and reach agreements which help declare to the world that Australia is open for launch.
  • We will return to the international stage – ready to open more doors and have Australian voices shape the global future of space and its long term sustainability.
  • We will continue to drive workforce development, with a focus on creating a skilled and diverse workforce.
  • And we will continue to bring space to the nation – reminding the public and ourselves of the critical role we play in maintaining and improving the Australian way of life.

Because it will be from that strong base that Australia can really start delivering on the promise of space.

Thank you.

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