Letter to the Hon. Ed Husic MP
The Hon. Ed Husic MP,
Minister for Industry and Science
My name is Patrick Grave. I am the CEO of the Melbourne Space Program (MSP), a Melbourne-based non-profit that has grown with the support of the University of Melbourne. We run challenging engineering projects to develop students into technology leaders. We are entirely student and alumni-run and, in 2019, we built Australia’s first student satellite in 50 years, ACRUX-1.
Congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Industry and Science. At MSP, we appreciate the efforts you have already made to promote the accelerating Australian space sector. In a recent press release , you mentioned the role that “Australia’s space sector”plays in “a better future for all Australians and for industry” and MSP deeply shares this perspective.
One promise of the space industry that you outlined was the creation of “jobs across a diverse range of skillsets”. However, the emphasis on “jobs” and sector growth needs to be accompanied by a similar focus on strong education pipelines to create this space workforce. The Space Agency was established with an explicit ‘jobs and growth mandate’ and outlines a target of “up to 20,000 new Australian jobs by 2030”. A report  prepared in 2021 for the Chief Scientist by the Australian Academy of Science points to the difficulty, perhaps impossibility, of creating these jobs. SmartSat CRC found  that Australia has skill shortages in “virtually all” space-related skills (310 of 319). Our concern at MSP is that not enough programs exist to provide this skills-focused training to equip young Australians seeking to make their careers in the STEM disciplines.
Australian student engineering teams, including the MSP are using ‘space’ as a way to train a multi-talented STEM workforce. These teams are arguably one of our tertiary education system’s greatest assets. Other than work placements, they are the closest a student gets to ‘on the job’ training before entering the workforce. Taking the ACRUX-1 satellite as an example, students acted as engineers, subsystem leads, and project leads. They worked closely with experienced industry engineers. They negotiated funding, launch contracts, and regulatory hurdles. They designed their mission, setting their own scope, requirements, and goals. These students had the chance to try roles that might take years to reach in industry, exposing them to a wider breadth of skills than internships and complementing their academic studies.
Numerous Australian student teams have succeeded in cultivating a culture of world-class engineering, playing four important roles in the development of an Australian STEM Workforce:
• Firstly, these teams have the capacity to attract talent into STEM roles; students and industry professionals are excited by the opportunity to work/mentor on an award-winning rover, satellite, or rocket.
• Secondly, these teams fully immerse students in engineering culture. Some members of Monash University’s ‘Nova Rover’ student-project spend 30-hour weeks working there and reduce their subject load to focus more on the team. Students invest many hours in these volunteer roles because they value the skills they are developing.
• Thirdly, students are exposed to award-winning, world-class engineering: Nova Rover placed 2nd in the 2022 international University Rover Challenge. At the 2022 Spaceport America Cup, USYD Rocketry Team placed 1st in 3 categories. UQ Space, Monash HPR, and Unimelb ARES all won prizes.
• Finally, these teams prepare students to enter the workforce by exposing them to industry mentors, sponsors, and industry nights. MSP’s role as this sort of “breeding and training ground for space technologists” was recognised in the Australian Plan for Space Science, published by the Australian Academy of Sciences earlier this year. MSP’s alumni have founded four companies – Navi Medical Technologies, Alto Education, Andromeda, Moonshot Space Accelerator – and have found employment across the STEM sector with Boeing, Atlassian, Gilmour Space, CSIRO, Maxonic, and more.
Australia’s student teams have great potential to assist in developing the next generation of engineers across all of STEM and to elevate the quality of Australian Industry.
To this end, the MSP seeks to share with you a vision for STEM education in Australia and seek you help to realise this vision. We want every engineering student in Australia to have an opportunity to be involved in a student-led team.
• All universities would receive dedicated funding to establish and nurture student teams as an integral part of the tertiary level education of STEM graduates.
• All involved parties (Defence, the Universities, Civil Space) would assist organisations such as MSP in designing their governance structures, to support their competitiveness on bids for work across fields including Space, Modern Manufacturing, and Cyber.
• There would be more opportunities for inter-university student collaboration and demonstration – engineering summits, sponsorship of student representatives at conferences, support for engineering competitions
• Student teams would continue to be invited to events and consultation sessions related to tertiary education, technology funding, and the space sector because they provide a unique perspective.
And the results would be clear; Australian students would receive a stronger education, acquire the vital skills that Australia’s STEM industries need, and enter the workforce as a new generation of ‘super-graduates’.
Thank you for the work that you and the Australian Space Agency are doing to develop Australia’s space industry.
The MSP would be delighted to show you our work and to discuss the points raised when you visit Melbourne in the future.
: Rapid Response Information Report: What are the growth areas in domestic STEM skills
to support jobs in the space industry, and how can these be addressed by the tertiary
(university and relevant VET) sector? July 2021 (shorturl.at/aBCGX)
: SmartSat 2021, Space Industry Skills Gap Analysis, SmartSat Technical Report no. 5,
SmartSat, Adelaide, Australia.