Ex-NASA astronaut headlines SA Space Forum

Mar 21, 2018, 09:52 AM

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Former NASA space shuttle commander Colonel Pam Melroy, who now works for South Australian defence and space company Nova Systems, will be speaking at the upcoming fifth South Australian Space Forum. At an international level, Colonel Pam Melroy sits on US National Space Council Users Advisory Group, while locally she’s helping shape the future of Australia’s national space agency. We recently spoke with Colonel Melroy, ahead of the free SA Space Forum, to talk all things space.

Q: You recently moved to Adelaide, from the US, to work with Nova Systems. How is your work progressing there?
 

A: I’m happy to be here, and enjoying embedding with the Australian space community. The people here are great, and everyone has been kind and welcoming. 

Q: Over the past 18 months, South Australia has taken significant steps to grow its share of the global space economy. What are your thoughts about South Australia’s space ecosystem? 
 

A: There is tremendous industry capability here (in South Australia), across everything from the heavy industrial capability all the way up to academia. South Australia really has a strong presence in defence and the technologies of aerospace across civil and defence. I think South Australia has been doing a great job of recognising space as a strength of the state and taking advantage of that.

Q: You will play an important role in shaping the future of Australia’s national space agency. What sort of role could South Australia play in the agency? 

A: South Australia’s work in the area of development of their space industry has incentivized the Australian Government to come up with a strategy and do something about this growing space industry. I think South Australia’s leadership in the area has drawn attention to the issue at a federal level.

I think there are many opportunities in the emerging space market for South Australian companies. One of my main points is that an Australian space agency must work very closely with industry to understand what is needed for Australian industry to compete effectively globally, because this is a global space market.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people, particularly women, who are considering a career in space?

A: Don’t quit! I think there can be some discouragement for women, especially in scientific areas. It is important to have a technical degree, because it is critical in the space community. In leadership positions, particularly, there’s an expectation that you need to have enough of a technical background to understand what you’re doing. I think it is a great business opportunity for young people, both men and women.    

Q: The Trump administration wants to privatise the International Space Station. What could this potentially mean for the future of space and does it open up opportunities for Australia’s space industry?

A: It’s important to understand that the space station, as it is currently operated by NASA, has opened up huge opportunities, globally, in the space industry. NASA is very interested in what is called ‘utilisation’. In other words, they built this fantastic lab in space and want other people to use it. They have created opportunities for cargo and have provided a bit of space on every cargo ship. The cost of getting your CubeSats and experiments to space has dramatically dropped, because NASA is essentially encouraging people to send things up to the space station.

To make that work commercially, independent of NASA’s support, I think is definitely everyone’s goal. This is a period when we are experimenting with things, understanding new business models and figuring out how to lower the cost of launch, but also of operating a space station that enables more companies to use a commercial capability.

Q: In the context of privatising the ISS, how could Australia build an effective cooperative model with the US? 

A: Australia already has a wonderful cooperative model; we just need to be doing more. There are lots of wonderful relationships between Australia and NASA, and Australia and European space agencies. There are existing agreements. Of course, everyone knows about the ground stations in Australia that are operated for NASA’s deep space network. That is an over 50-year-old arrangement that is very robust, and we just need to be doing more of this.        

To hear more about Colonel Melroy’s insights into US space policy head along to the fifth South Australian Space Forum on Thursday, 12 April 2018. For more information, or to register, visit: http://ow.ly/eioR30j17bX