Virgin Galactic's COO tapped as new Australian Space Agency boss

Enrico Palermo will take over from Dr Megan Clark in January.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian Space Agency is getting a new boss, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing Enrico Palermo will begin his tenure in the new year.

Palermo will join the agency from Virgin Galactic, where he is currently the company's chief operating officer and president of its aerospace-system manufacturing organisation, The Spaceship Company.

See also: Virgin Galactic announces preparations for its first spaceflight, investors unconvinced

"In its first two years, the Australian Space Agency has made significant progress and achieved many firsts. I look forward to working with the Agency team to continue the mission of growing and transforming Australia's space industry," Palermo said.

The University of Western Australia graduate will return home to fill the role when inaugural head Dr Megan Clark finishes up in late December. Clark will commence as the chair of the Australian Space Agency Advisory Board in the New Year.

Clarke joined the agency in July 2018. She was previously the head of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

"Mr Palermo's leadership will rocket Australia toward our goal of becoming a major player in the international space industry, while providing benefits across our economy," Morrison said. 

"I extend my deepest thanks to Dr Clark who has led the Agency from its infancy in 2018 and set a clear path forward."

The Australian government cemented plans to return to space during the 2018-19 Budget when it committed AU$41 million to create the Australian Space Agency.

The agency was given the mandate to triple the size of Australia's domestic space industry up to AU$12 billion by 2030, generating 20,000 new Australian jobs, and getting more kids to take up STEM-focused careers.

As detailed in a roadmap released in early April 2019, the space agency plans to transform and grow Australia's space industry over the next 10 years through four so-called strategic space pillars: Opening the door internationally; developing national capability in areas of competitive advantage; ensuring safety and national interest are addressed; and inspiring and improving the lives of all Australians.

The Australian Space Agency operates out of Lot Fourteen at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site in South Australia.

In September, construction began on the Australian Space Discovery Centre and Mission Control Centre. The Australian Space Discovery Centre will showcase interactive space exhibits and a careers hub, while Mission Control will provide facilities for space businesses and researchers to control satellite and space missions.  

See also: Apollo 11 50 years on: A look at Australia's role in the moon landing

To mark the start of NAIDOC week, CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope this week was honoured with a traditional name chosen by Wiradjuri Elders.

The 64-metre telescope is located on Wiradjuri country in central west New South Wales, approximately 380km west of Sydney.

It received the name Murriyang. In the Wiradjuri Dreaming, Biyaami is a prominent creator spirit and is represented in the sky by the stars which also portray the Orion constellation. Murriyang represents the "Skyworld" where Biyaami lives.

The 12-metre Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) testing antenna also received a new name in Giyalung Miil.

Meaning "Smart Eye", this telescope was commissioned in 2008 as a testbed for a special new type of receiver technology used on CSIRO's ASKAP antennas. The receiver is able to see different parts of the sky simultaneously, making it a 'smart eye'.

An 18-metre decommissioned antenna was also named Giyalung Guluman, which means "Smart Dish". This antenna has the ability to move along a railway track while observing. CSIRO said it became pivotal in early work that determined the size and brightness of radio sources in the sky.

The antenna was originally assembled at the CSIRO Fleurs Radio Telescope site in Penrith NSW in 1960 and was transported to Parkes in 1963, becoming operational two years later.


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