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You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work in space

Business

Economists in space? The growing reach of the global space industry is creating opportunities in an array of vocations far beyond astronauts and rocket scientists.

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Annalisa Piva sits in a café, sipping on a macchiato. Outside, motorcycles zip down the city streets and the room is filled with the sounds and smells of coffee machines whirring to life as baristas fill the morning’s orders.

The 23-year-old doesn’t seem too far removed from daily life in her home country of San Marino, a tiny microstate in central Italy. But she is sitting in an Adelaide café, reflecting on her journey from Milan economics student to government intern in Australia. Her role with Defence SA is to compile a report on the potential of the nation’s space industry, which may be used in the coming months to push the case for a national agency.

“I am actually very proud of what I have done,” Piva says.

“It’s pretty good to see that actually you don’t need to be working directly in space to be able to analyse it and produce a report on it.”

Turn the clock back three months and the postgraduate student would have replied with a blank stare when questioned on how a nation like Australia could benefit from its own space agency.

Now in her final week of an internship with Defence SA, Piva is at ease describing the economics of space, and is quick to emphasise the opportunities available to all sectors in the global industry.

“I now find it really interesting. It’s so much more than what you first think; it’s so much more embedded in our lives.

“I have a friend who is a consultant and often they have cases related to space. Economists have so many opportunities in the field, and so do engineers.

“Working in the space sector doesn’t mean you have to work in space literally or working only to produce technology for space, because there are so many other things you can do.”

Rather than being the exclusive domain of astronauts and rocket scientists, the space industry is proving to be an open door for a variety of occupations, from lawyers, economists, and IT professionals to public relations officers and sales consultants.

However, opportunities in the space sector are only expected to increase here if Australia, one of only two OECD nations alongside Iceland without a space agency, commits to establishing its own agency.

The Australian space sector currently produces annual revenues of up to AU$4 billion and employs between 9500 and 11,500 people from its 0.8 per cent share of the global space economy, which was estimated to be worth US$330 billion in 2014.

Piva consulted with noted space lawyer and Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) chair Michael Davis while compiling her report.

She found that if Australia is able to replicate the performance of the UK space economy in its first eight years after the establishment of a national space agency, 11,700 new jobs and an additional AU$5.3 billion will be generated – an improvement of 132 per cent on current figures.

“The number of jobs in the space industry is expected to more than double by 2025,” she says.

“On the basis of the UK’s model, 23,000 directly generated jobs from the space sector will be created in Australia in eight years if the country commits to a space agency.”

Piva compared the Canadian and British space agencies as case studies for her research report, arguing both countries were best practice predictors for a space agency in Australia.

“On one side we have Canada, which is very similar to Australia because it’s a very big territory with its population scattered all over. The UK is a good example of a recently established space agency,” she says.

“I saw that the situation in the UK before the establishment of its space agency was actually very similar to the one Australia has now. You could say that the improvement they had in the UK might be very similar to one we could have if we went ahead with the space agency.”

As South Australia gears up to host the upcoming 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide from September 25-29, the State Government and the SIAA is lobbying for a national space agency with a permanent presence in the state.

“I think it’s very important for South Australia to be hosting the congress. It will give a lot of value to the whole area here in terms of space potential and capacity,” Piva says.

“You read a lot of articles these days about businesses saying we need a space agency, so that’s just a sign that everybody is ready for it – you just need to take the decision and go for it.

“Everybody knows that we need it – all I did was show that it really adds value to have one.”

Last month South Australia signed a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Capital Territory to work together towards establishing a national space agency.

The agreement forms a new chapter in the state’s long history in the space industry, which started when the Woomera Test Range was established 70 years ago.

Piva says South Australia is well placed to take a lead role in Australia’s space sector.

“There are a lot of start-ups growing here that are all linked to the sector. Universities and research organisations are all communicating with each other and with the industry and government,” she says.

“A space agency will bring a lot of new start-ups and innovation. A lot of young people will come to the area to study and move the economy by living here.”

After an intense three-month stint in Adelaide, Piva now has her eyes on finishing the final year of her masters degree.

“I definitely want to return to Australia in the future. I wouldn’t mind working longer in the space sector here. If my report is OK and people are interested, I would love it.”

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