How engineers are pivotal in getting Australians to fall in love with space again

As Australia takes its first steps into the ever-expanding space industry, government agencies are now turning to experts in the aerospace and space engineering fields to help them reach the stars.
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As Australia takes its first steps into the ever-expanding space industry, government agencies are now turning to experts in the aerospace and space engineering fields to help them reach the stars.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon with the support of Michael Collins flying the Apollo 11 command module in 1969, it became one of the great accomplishments in history.

But behind this extraordinary feat of human achievement was an army of 400,000 engineers, scientists and technicians to make sure that they got to the moon and returned to Earth safely.

Not to mention the pivotal role Australia played in the missions, forging a partnership and a lasting legacy with the United States.

While the years have eroded enthusiasm for space exploration and discovery, the Australian Federal Government is attempting to reignite the passion we once had for the beyond.

In July 2018, the Australian Space Agency was launched with the same determination to achieve equally ambitious goals as those set in the 1960s.

The Agency aims to triple the space sectors’ contribution to our GDP to $12 billion, create an additional 20,000 jobs by 2030 and ‘inspire’ Australians to engage with the industry again.

The Agency’s strategy notes the space sector is growing rapidly and is a significant part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ which is worth US$350 billion today.

By 2040, the space sector is forecast to grow to over $US1.1 trillion with the Australian space sector set to grow strongly and outperform the broader economy.

To do that, the government is asking for help from engineers, professionals and scientists.

 

Engaging the engineering profession

In late 2019, Engineers Australia accepted an invitation to join the Space Industry Leaders Forum (SILF).

SILF is the first step in helping coordinate engagements and to engage the Australian public. Members of SILF will include industry representatives, academia, relevant industry associations and other non-government space organisations.

The Engineers Australia National Committee on Space Engineering is working towards becoming the voice of the space engineering profession in Australia.

Chair of Engineers Australia National Committee on Space Engineering, Stephen Bornstein, said he is looking forward to providing advice on the issues critical to Australia’s space engineers.

“Under the auspices of Engineers Australia, the National Committee on Space Engineering acts as the voice of the profession with a focus on promoting the development and retention of local expertise,” says Mr Bornstein.

Earthspace Consultant and Technical Advisor, Roger Franzen, will be Engineers Australia’s SILF delegate. Mr Franzen has more than 35-years of space engineering experience in Europe and Australia.

Not only does Australia’s space industry have to compete with already established and strong space economies like the US and Europe, it has the added pressure of needing to inspire Australians and, more importantly, young Australians to be excited about space and engineering, as interest in STEM continues to be low after 20 years of declines.

The government, through the Australian Space Agency, plans to showcase ‘Australia’s achievements in space activities to inspire young people to take up STEM careers, and support the growth of the future workforce.’

 

Calling for the Right Stuff

A 2015 Engineers Australia report found that the percentage of high school students studying STEM is still in a state of decline. There are fewer and fewer students studying the necessary subjects to be accepted into university degrees that are vital for STEM professions.

Mr Bornstein said it will be important that the workforce is equipped with the necessary skills and children are engaged in STEM education.

“Ensuring high tech jobs stay in Australia is a key priority. Our finest engineers are leaving Australia to work in the USA, Europe or even New Zealand because they want to work in ‘space’. Let’s reverse this trend and keep them in our country and our economy; creating more jobs, opportunity and greater value for Australians,” says Mr Bornstein.

With such an ambitious undertaking, the Agency needs all the help it can get to inspire the public.

But there is hope. There continues to be close to 500 students graduating from aerospace engineering each year.

As part of its strategy, the Australian Space Agency also appointed an advisory group, which recently held its inaugural meeting.

The group's eight members are drawn from a range of industry and academic organisations and includes former NASA astronaut and aerospace engineer, Dr Andrew Thomas AO, who was part of crews that docked with the Mir Space Station and the International Space Station.

The Federal Government is also investing $150 million into the Australian Space Agency's research activities to continue the goal of building a viable and connected local space industry.

If Australia is to continue its goal of becoming a leading space economy, it needs to rely on organisations like Engineers Australia to define the pathway to the future …… and into space.