Pursuing a career in South Australia’s space industry

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By Melissa Keogh

Forty-three-year-old project manager Ben Adams had about 20 years’ experience working in the private and public sectors in a range of technology, strategy and project delivery roles through to executive levels of government when the appeal of a career in space was something he could no longer ignore.

It was 2017 and Adelaide was hosting the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) – the world’s largest annual conference for the space industry – and soaking in all the hype, Ben knew it was time to make the bravest leap of his career.

Fast forward almost two years and two space-related university courses and Ben is now Project Manager at space and defence start-up Inovor Technologies based at innovation neighbourhood Lot Fourteen, a world-class neighbourhood for innovation, entrepreneurship and research in technology and the arts.

“I’ve always been fascinated with space since I was a boy, but I didn’t know it was a career that you could have, it never registered it was something I could actually do here in Adelaide,” he says. “It’s certainly taken some personal sacrifices to change the career trajectory I was on, but it’s super important to me to be excited and passionate about what I do.”

It was around the same time as the IAC when Ben discovered the France-based International Space University was offering a five-week intensive space studies course, the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program, through the University of South Australia.

“It’s a course run right here in our backyard with students from all around the world who often already work for space agencies overseas. You’re taught by a range of highly qualified professionals, including people who are employed by NASA, and there’s also an astronaut who teaches as well,” he says. “It’s been a wonderful leap for me to be able to move into the space industry.”

A husband and father to a young daughter, moving overseas to pursue a career change wasn’t an option for Ben. But not that it mattered anyway as the relevant steps towards pursuing a career in space – a burgeoning sector expected to employ an additional 20,000 people in Australia by 2030 – could be taken right here in SA.

Following the five-week intensive space course, Ben completed a Graduate Certificate in Space Studies at UniSA. He also came across Inovor Technologies, a young space and defence company that develops satellite technologies and builds spacecraft for civilian and defence projects. A position soon became available and the rest is history.

Ben is now two months into his role at Inovor as Project Manager and is responsible for working closely with engineers to ensure current projects are tracking well, while also developing bids for new work for the company. Ben is determined his 20-year past career experience won’t go to waste and he’s confident the skills collected along the way can be transferred to the new sector.

Inovor Technologies Project Manager Ben Adams with one of the company’s mini satellites or ‘cubesats’, which are used to collect data and research in low Earth orbit. Photo by Myles Quist.

He says there’s no doubt there will be an abundance of opportunities for today’s students and graduates to build a successful career in the future space industry from South Australia.

“The opportunities are only going to continue to grow and that’s in no short part due to the Australian Space Agency’s target to grow an additional 20,000 jobs in the space industry across Australia by 2030. There is no doubt in my mind that a very large portion of those are going to be in SA,” he says.

“If you’re a student in primary or high school thinking about what you want to do there is a whole new career path that is totally feasible now to pursue.”

Ben says the changing course of SA industries – away from traditional manufacturing and towards a hi-tech advanced manufacturing future – centre around three catalyst moments.

“One of those was the successful bid to get the IAC held here in Adelaide in 2017, that was a massive trigger especially when we had the likes of Elon Musk from SpaceX being a part of it,” he says.

“I’d say the former and current state governments have really been championing the industry significantly over a number of years now, which included bringing the IAC here as well as choosing the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site to become Lot Fourteen.

“Then there was the championing to get the Australian Space Agency here (in Adelaide). That’s three big triggers and I’m sure there are others but those are the standouts for me.”

Lot Fourteen, which is in the early stages of an eight-year redevelopment program, has a focus on technology-based future industries of defence, space, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cyber security and the creative industries. It was a good fit for Inovor, which moved there in April, 2019.

Inovor is the only privately-owned Australian company that designs and manufactures satellites in the country using an Australian supply chain. Founded by current CEO Dr Matthew Tetlow in 2013, Inovor is currently working on the design and manufacture of a new cube satellite for the CSIRO, named CSIROSat-1 and used to detect and analyse infrared light to monitor changes in land cover caused by flooding, deforestation, bushfires and weather events.

“We have a family of small satellite platforms and we form mission solutions for our customers from design, manufacture, integration and test delivery through to operations. That’s the more widely known project we do,” Ben says.

“We also provide some services to defence in several key areas like electronic warfare simulation.”

Feature image by Myles Quist.

Industry in focus: Careers of the Future

Throughout the months of May and June, future careers in South Australia will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

Embracing innovation, creativity and an understanding of building quality partnerships with technology is key to ensuring career opportunities in the future. SA is taking necessary steps to equip future generations with the skills for future careers and current workforces to transition to the future industries.

Read more Careers of the Future stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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