Tech

Is Australia’s Deep Tech Future in Space?


Australia is gearing up to play a big role in the future of space tech. For IT pros in areas as varied as AI, cyber security and game development, this is a big opportunity.

Radio antennae for deep space discovery.
Image: Adobe/Taras Vyshnya

As far as deep tech goes, Australia’s greatest potential might be to look to the stars. Compared to some nations, Australia’s space industry is comparatively small. However, it is not insignificant, and the government anticipates that it will end up employing around 30,000 people by 2030. In 2021, with about half that number, the sector generated $4.5 billion across more than 600 companies. In 2030, it’s expected to deliver $12 billion to the local economy, and that’s not accounting for all of the innovations that tend to spin off from deep tech innovation.

For example, as one academic working in space education noted, the innovations developed by the space industry will be able to assist Australia in managing bushfires, droughts and agriculture; protect endangered species; and develop climate mitigation strategies. It’s a field of STEM expertise that is going to have a larger impact on the country than many might be aware of.

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Australian government priorities in space

The enthusiasm for space is shared across Australian governments at all levels. In a paper earlier this year, the Victorian Government outlined where the priorities would be for the local space industry moving forward.

  • Positioning, navigation and timing.
  • Earth observation.
  • Communication technologies and services.
  • Space situational awareness and debris monitoring.
  • Leapfrog research and development.
  • Robotics and automation on Earth and in space.
  • Access to space.

“Australia’s geographic location on Earth provides it with a strategic advantage in many of these aspirations,” the paper noted. “Covering a large area in the Southern Hemisphere, the federal government believes it is in an advantageous position to ‘leverage international space missions and commercial launch activities’, just as it did in 2022 when NASA launched three rockets into sub-orbit from Arnhem Land.”

SEE: Discover these trends Australian data pros should consider ahead of 2024.

Of course, ambition would be for nothing if the country didn’t have the ability to deliver technology. The good news is that the pathways into the space sector are strong, and there is investment being made to ensure that a skills shortage doesn’t cripple the opportunity.

Investment in space skills is strong

The Australian Space Agency has a target of 20,000 jobs to be created by 2030. To do that, it is investing in programs such as the Space Industry Work Experience Program, developed as part of the Advanced Technology Program within the Department of Education.

This program gives secondary school students an insight into what is involved in the space industry and an early understanding of the skills they’ll need to develop for it. It’s also a networking opportunity that can help furnish students with their first steps forward after school.

For those entering university, it is unsurprising that the space industry has an appetite for those with astronomy, physics and engineering skills. In addition, there’s a clear need for those with data expertise. AI is going to play a massive role in the evolution of space technology — and Australian organisations are already taking pioneering steps there — so any university student that adds some data and analytics units to their degrees is giving themselves the opportunity to participate in the space sector.

Surprising pathways to careers in space

However, for tech pros, there are some unusual and unexpected pathways to the industry, too. One field of IT that will provide a strong pathway into space that people might not immediately think about is cyber security. IT professionals are already well-advised to take advantage of the massive skill shortage in cyber security to build their careers. Space is another option for those that do.

SEE: The ASEAN region is seeing more cyber attacks as digitisation advances.

As noted by Open Universities: “Space orgs need to share highly sensitive information without fearing security breaches, which is where cyber security specialists come in. They will be incredibly in demand as Australia’s space industry grows, because they help protect satellites and ground station computer systems from malicious attacks.”

However, as the local space sector continues to bloom, there will be opportunities that come from all parts of IT, including some unexpected ones. Take, for example, software development  or even game development.

One example of an unusual pathway into space

In 2017, NASA and Melbourne-based Opaque Media announced the development of VR training tools that simulate the experience of being on a space station, as a way of helping astronauts prepare for the unique demands and conditions of that environment.

The project was called Earthlight, and while it and, ultimately, Opaque Media itself closed down, that is the nature of deep tech: It’s experimental, and sometimes, experiments fail. The fact that the project was undertaken at all highlights the potential that even game developers have to play a role in space deep tech.

Indeed, it’s also not the first time the space industry has targeted game developers for their capabilities, and it won’t be the last. This demand for everything from cyber security experts to game developers highlights just how extensive the breadth of opportunities is for IT professionals in space.

Space is an opportunity for everyone

Perhaps the best way to look at careers in Australia’s burgeoning space industry is that anyone who still likes to look up at the stars and wonder has a role to play.

For the local industry, then, the best way to encourage people into career pathways that lead them to the space industry would be to encourage whimsy. This is something that the local industry does seem to have latched onto, with projects such as the Kids In Space competition having, over the years, generated almost 1 million student designs.

All that creativity is not only going to inspire the students to continue with their studies in university, but it also reminds us that space, the final frontier, is one of the rare places where the deepest and most creative innovations come from. Australia, with deep education and expertise in this area, has every opportunity to lead the world in the next wave of big advances in space exploration and development.



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