SA looks to space for jobs of the future

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By Belinda Willis

As the nation invests $245 million into a new space research centre in Adelaide, its CEO says young South Australians have a unique opportunity to look to the sky.

University of South Australia professor Andy Koronios says Adelaide’s new SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and the new Australian Space Agency are creating the largest space research collaboration in the nation’s history. Best of all, SA is at its core.

“It is hard to predict how many jobs it could create, it will definitely build the space industry and that is going to yield a lot of jobs,” Prof Koronios says. “We have committed to train nearly 100 Phd students and 500 space engineers and scientists.”

The national research centre will likely be based alongside the Australian Space Agency at the new Lot Fourteen hub in Adelaide but will have nodes in states and territories around the country.

It’s work backed by the Federal Government along with strong financial and in-kind support from universities and companies around the nation, companies that Prof Koronios believes have incredible growth potential. He uses SA-based satellite startup Myriota with its beginnings at UniSA’s Mawson Lakes campus as an example.

“Look at Myriota, it started with three or four guys led by Alex Grant, now two or three years later they have more than 40 people and are worth millions,” Prof Koronios says.

The CRC is focused on helping meet the Australian Space Agency’s goal of lifting Australia’s share of the global industry to $12 billion and generating an extra 20,000 jobs by 2030. Globally, space technologies and industries are worth more than $500 billion.

Its goal is to create leapfrogging technologies in advanced telecommunications and smart satellite systems to build Australia’s space infrastructure giving the nation real-time connectivity, surveillance and sensing over its land, sea and oceans.

Prof Andy Koronios says investment into Australia’s space industry will create many jobs for future generations.

Prof Koronios says it is important for the nation to be independent in having its own smart satellites rather than relying on other countries to provide up-to-date information.

“(And) we need to make satellites more intelligent, there will be thousands of satellites up there, they need to know where they are, how to avoid collisions, to communicate with other satellites,” he says.

Prof Koronios says Myriota has developed sought-after technology, among its many applications the technology can be used to help farmers with vast cattle stations know when water troughs need filling.

“Usually people drive long distances between water sources to check they are filled but this company developed sensors to check on the water level, it sends the information to a satellite and the data is sent to the farmer’s iPhone,” he says.

There are also applications for the growing global demand for food provenance, where a consumer knows where a steak comes from by information recorded on a Fitbit-style device worn by cattle.

Another area the CRC is likely to look at for research is developing an advanced communications system that could allow the nation to have “almost like an NBN in the sky” rather than having to rely on lots of fibre on the ground, Prof Koronios says.

He believes there is a strong future for new jobs in the sector and that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills along with coding will be in demand.

“Yet I think for young people they should follow their passion, it’s important to get good training, but they have to be cognisant that they will likely do something else in the workforce,” he says.

His own career took unexpected paths after he moved from Greece to Australia aged 17 and joined the Australian Army where he completed Year 12 and went onto study electrical engineering.

He worked as a software developer, studied a masters specialising in computer science and then a PhD in software engineering with educational implications. Between 2002 and 2016, Prof Koronios was head of mathematics at the UniSA Mawson Lakes campus.

While it is difficult to predict jobs in the future, Prof Koronios “sees a world where we are really inventing further augmenting for the technology to serve”.

And he believes future employers will be looking for workers with a strong balance between their IQ, emotional intelligence (EI) and “adaptability quotient” (AQ).

“Studies are showing that the first two years in an organisation your IQ is important but then it’s your EI and AQ that are predictors on being a true leader in the organisation,” he says.

“What we need to be teaching kids is how they are going to become more adaptable and to use that great word – resilience.”

Feature image by Cath Leo.

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