Posted by Davina Jackson on 3 Sep 2014

Enrico Palermo, heading operations for Richard Branson's The Spaceship Company.

Enrico Palermo, heading operations for Richard Branson’s The Spaceship Company.

Australia’s desert would be an ideal place to build one of the world’s first commercial spaceports, claims Enrico Palermo, the Perth-born, California-based operations leader for Sir Richard Branson’s The Spaceship Company (TSC).

But in this year’s Warren Centre Innovation Lecture, ‘Beyond Earth’, Palermo claimed our government is well behind the United States in setting up a regulation framework to govern and support commercial spaceship operators.

Working closely with Virgin Galactic to build a fleet of spacecraft carrying tourists at supersonic speeds ‘point to point’ around the globe, Palermo says TSC basically needs just a terminal and a 10,000 foot-long runway to make Australia one of the nodes on its future space travel network. The best current example is a spaceport designed by British architects Norman Foster & Partners, funded by the US state government of New Mexico in a contract with Virgin Galactic to fly its spacecraft from that port.

As well as space tourists, TSC expects its craft to carry payloads of small commercially operated satellites equipped for Earth observations.

Virgin Galactic is the only private enterprise to have put astronauts (two) into orbit, but it is training a multi-cultural force of 700 astronauts – including several dozen Australians camped at the Virgin space headquarters in the Mojave Desert, 120 kms north of Los Angeles.

Palermo is explaining the emerging commercial space travel industry to Warren Centre engineering audiences in several state capitals. He noted that while space flying has taken much longer than air travel for a commercial industry to develop from original demonstrations of inventions, the major space industry investors now agreed that the space industry is at ‘a very exciting inflection point’ on its growth chart.

Palermo’s Sydney lecture at the Powerhouse Museum was introduced by the New South Wales Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, who noted her roles as chair of the Co-operative Research Centres (CRCs) for Spatial Information (at the University of Melbourne) and and Space Environment Management (investigating ways to remove space junk, at Mount Stromlo Observatory, Canberra).

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Mary O'Kane.

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Mary O’Kane.

O’Kane suggested that while Australia needed to embrace innovation, she had concluded (after heading various innovation-focused boards and leading a Commonwealth government innovation report published in 2009), ‘we don’t seem to do innovation very well’.

Claiming ‘I am addicted to space’, she welcomed Palermo to the platform, encouraged the Warren Centre audience of 300 people to help grow Australia’s space industry potentials, then quietly left the hall as the room darkened for Palermo’s slides.

Note: Earlier Australian attempts to set up spaceports have not been successful. Here is a SatMagazine report by Jps Heyman (with thanks to Stephen Ward).