Queensland’s next-generation aerospace industry is ready for launch. Encompassing civilian and military aircraft, including aeroplanes, helicopters and remotely piloted aircraft, as well as new space technology and deployment, this is an exciting and innovative industry where the sky is no limit for a global career.
Established in 2013 by brothers Adam and James Gilmour, Gold Coast-based Gilmour Space Technologies is now one of Australia’s leading space companies, pioneering new and innovative technologies and capabilities to launch low-cost rockets and satellites into space.
We spoke to Gilmour Space Technologies Co-Founder and CEO Adam Gilmour about how Queensland’s space industry is taking flight and what’s on the horizon for new projects and careers in this futuristic field.
How has Queensland’s aerospace industry evolved?
Aerospace is a very wide term. In its broadest definition, aerospace is about things that fly through the air or go into space. On the aircraft side, Queensland has a long history as an aviation hub, attracting international companies such as Airbus Asia Pacific and Boeing Defence Australia, which are involved with the development and maintenance of civil and defence helicopters and aircraft as well as engineering and airframe redesign. Boeing recently developed the Loyal Wingman fighter drone in Brisbane, which is the company’s first unmanned system to be designed and developed in Australia.
On the space side, Queensland and Australia can best be described as an emerging global player. Gilmour Space started building rockets in 2015 and in that time, we have grown from 3 people to a team of more than 60. There are currently at least 3 other Queensland-based companies working on rocket launch and in-space propulsion systems, so Queensland is now the state with the highest concentration of propulsion technology and capability in Australia.
What sets Queensland’s space industry apart?
There are a few factors that have put Queensland on the map in regards to the space industry. Firstly, there is plenty of physical outdoor space in Queensland, which is very handy if you are launching rockets. We also need space to test rocket engines and, of course, there are many excellent locations for an orbital launch site in Queensland.
The University of Queensland (UQ) was instrumental in the early days in propelling Queensland’s space industry forward from an education and research perspective. Since the late 1980s, UQ had a hypersonics research program, The UQ Centre for Hypersonics, which was regarded as a leading university-based research group. Graduates of that program have gone on to work for aerospace companies around the world, including our company.
While we established Gilmour Space in Queensland quite randomly, I am a Queenslander and I like to think that what we have achieved has inspired other Australian rocket companies. We are currently the market leader for launch and there is not a lot of competition in other states.
How is Queensland’s space industry regarded globally?
I think the rest of the world sees Queensland as an emerging space player. The federal and state governments are now focused on committing resources and funding to this industry and this should lead to more space companies attracting venture capital in Australia.
What drives the space industry forward in Queensland?
I believe that a combination of university programs, innovative companies, ground-breaking research and government support will contribute to the growth of Queensland’s space industry. As a new space company, we rely on the quality education systems in Australia, and Queensland in particular, as we hire mostly local university graduates. We are also working with Queensland universities to include more space-related projects and activities in their future courses. In order to become a world-leading space sector, the industry needs innovative and game-changing ideas and entrepreneurs, which will require venture capital as well as government funding and support for research and development.
How have Queensland universities adapted to train students for a career in the space industry?
Queensland universities are currently looking at opportunities to embed space research and technology development into their education programs. Gilmour Space is working with several universities on how to give students more hands-on experience in building, designing and testing space tech. These programs will be extremely useful for companies like ours, providing graduates with hands-on experience in the industry who can hit the ground running.
What opportunities does Gilmour Space offer for students and graduates?
We have undergraduate placement programs that we facilitate through universities on a continual basis and then we hire graduates from a wide variety of engineering and science fields. In our company, students can work on anything from the software and guidance, navigation and control systems to mechanical and propulsion systems and ground support equipment, so there’s a wide variety of roles available.
As well as orbital launch vehicles, we are partnering with Griffith University on a 5-year project to develop and build a 100kg satellite with the aim to launch the prototype by 2023. This partnership will also see Griffith University create targeted programs to train students to enter the space industry and provide opportunities for students and graduates to be involved in the development of our G-Class Satellite as well as on composite structures for our rockets.
We are also working to launch our first rocket to orbit from a Bowen launch site in 2022.
If we have the ability to build Australian-made satellites and rockets and launch them from an Australian launch site, this will help position Gilmour Space as one of the top space players in the world and I think that is very achievable in the next 5 years.
What are your predictions for the future of aerospace in Queensland?
I am optimistic about the future of Queensland’s space industry. I think the industry here will continue to grow exponentially, which will allow for the creation of 1,000 to 3,000 jobs in the space industry over the next 5 years and provide opportunities for Queensland university students to participate.
The next 5 years is going to be very different from the last 5 years because Australia now has a focus on space. This will translate into more expanded courses and projects with private industry and universities. Government, universities and industry are becoming aligned about leveraging space technologies and applications to solve real problems on Earth, and I think that’s a fantastic positive step into the future.