By Lana Guineay
Flavia Tata Nardini moved to Adelaide for love – and is now helping launch the state into a revolutionary new space age.
The Italian aerospace engineer was working in the Netherlands managing an $18 million project propelling tiny satellites to Mars, when she fell in love with an Adelaide engineer on assignment.
“Well, he’s very good-looking guy…” Flavia laughs.
The rest is history. After a whirlwind romance, Flavia, eight months pregnant with their first child, moved to her husband Stefano Landi’s hometown.
That was 2012.
Flavia didn’t know what to expect from South Australia, but jumped into it with characteristic enthusiasm.
With a master’s degree in space engineering from University La Sapienza and experience at the European Space Agency and Dutch innovation company TNO, Flavia was incredibly qualified – but opportunities in space at the time were limited.
“I knew that South Australia was an engineering state, but not being Australian I couldn’t work for defence.”
There was only one space start up in the country, and that was in Sydney.
The solution? Create your own job – and help launch a new industry.
In 2014, Flavia and co-founders Dr Matt Tetlow from the University of Adelaide and space entrepreneur Matt Pearson started a space education initiative, Launchbox, engaging school students with science and space.
The project’s success led to the launch of Fleet in 2015, a start up dedicated to solving some of the biggest global issues of the future, connecting the 75 billion-plus devices that will come online over the next decade.
Fleet will launch the first of more than 100 planned nano-satellites in 2018, creating a global “nervous system” connecting millions of digital sensors.
From farming to factories, shipping, mining and conservation, Fleet’s constellation of nanosatellites will provide free, global connectivity to connected devices that will transform industries around the world.
In the last 20 years, the focus has been on connecting humans with technology like the iPhone, says Flavia. The next era is a whole different magnitude.
“We’re currently experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the ‘internet of things’,” Flavia says.
“It’s a big change in our world, and we want to help this industrial revolution from space happen in South Australia.”
“Don’t just think about connecting your fridge, we’re talking about industry completely changing. It will be a trillion-dollar market in the next three years. We’re so lucky to be in the middle of this.”
Flavia says space technology is currently changing in the way that computers changed in the past – from big to small.
“Nano satellites are the next generation. Instead of having one big bird, you’ve got lots of little bees.”
After choosing South Australia as her home, Flavia and Fleet are leading the charge to grow the local space industry.
“Now we’ve got offices all around the world, in Australia, in LA and Europe, we grew from three people to a 400sqm warehouse in Beverley.”
There are now around 60 South Australian organisations working in the space industry, with VC investment topping $10 million. Neumann Space has re-located from Sydney, a new space industry centre for SA has been announced, and the State Government is pitching to become the operational base for a national space agency.
3500 space industry landed in the city for the 68th International Astronautical Congress (September 25–29), where Elon Musk updated the world on his proposed Mars settlement and Flavia presented on Fleet.
“In three years we’ve created an entire industry from scratch,” says Flavia.
“South Australia is playing a massive role. Companies are re-locating. Everything is going to happen here.
“Everyone said I needed to move to the US if I wanted to run a space company… it turns out they were wrong.”
For Flavia, being at the forefront of the new space age is a childhood dream come true.
“I wanted to be a space engineer since I was a little girl, that was my dream.”
From a family of engineers (her grandmother had a degree, her grandfather two), Flavia would write to Father Christmas asking for space books or a telescope.
Flavia’s own little girls, Vittoria, 2, and Caterina, 4, motivate her to think about what sort of world they’ll live in, and helping to create a better world for their generation.
“I’ve got kids so I’m always thinking – what’s the future going to look like?”
“The reality is that space is for earth. Eventually it will be Mars and for the moon – but for today, space is for us, all the problems we’re trying to solve are here. All of the advanced manufacturing that’s happening in space is about making a better life on earth.”
“For us, it’s about changing the world.”
This month’s I Choose SA for Industries stories are made possible by sponsor, the University of South Australia.