Fostering space start-ups to get us to the stars | Kimberley Clayfield

By Tanya Griffiths

12 June 2018

Dr Kimberley Clayfield, our Executive Manager of Space Sciences and Technology.

As Australia’s national science agency, we have a long and accomplished history in supporting and developing the space sector. Now, with Australia starting its journey to build a national space agency, we’d like to introduce you to some of our experts in the sector. From awards to supporting space start-ups, Dr Kimberley Clayfield has dedicated her career to space.

When Kimberley Clayfield began reading science fiction novels as a kid, it wasn’t just the stories that drew her in. Instead, it was a sense of wonder.

“I was fascinated by the vast unknown expanses of space. The excitement of using cutting-edge technologies to explore undiscovered aspects of the Universe has never left me,” she says.

It’s a fascination Kimberley has managed to channel into a successful career. So successful, in fact, that in 2014 she was awarded the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Lawrence Sperry Award, an honour bestowed by the international aerospace sector’s largest professional association. She was the first Australian recipient of the award; the list of previous winners includes a former Apollo Mission Controller, a previous NASA Chief Technologist and the first American woman in space.

Awards aside, Kimberley’s aerospace career has been broad, spanning national space policy development, Earth observation, space situational awareness, the international Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope project, and satellite technology development programs.

“CSIRO has developed advanced methodologies for using satellite data in a huge variety of ways,” she says, noting projects like a collaboration with Geoscience Australia on the Sentinel Hotspots live bushfire tracking application, or the development of Pastures from Space, which helps Australian farmers optimise their pasture productivity and improve the feed management of livestock.

Today, as our Executive Manager of Space Sciences and Technology, Kimberley’s role combines space strategy, program management and technology development. She’s also actively involved in supporting Australia’s burgeoning space industry, and recently concluded a three-year term as Chair of Engineers Australia’s National Committee on Space Engineering.

“It’s a really exciting time of growth across the sector” she says.

One of those growth areas is the field of space start-ups. Five years ago there were perhaps a handful of space start-ups in Australia. Now there are dozens, including Cuberider, Fleet Space, FluroSat, Gilmour Space Technologies, Myriota, Neumann Space and Saber Astronautics.

“Australia’s space start ups have raised over $30m in venture capital over the past 18 months, and are continuing to grow.”

Given that space start-ups face both business and technology development challenges, Kimberley has been involved in fostering the growth of space start-ups through increased collaboration.

“We started with a workshop focused on building closer R&D connections between CSIRO and the emerging new space industry. This stimulated a lot of interest and we have recently followed up with another workshop aimed at fostering broader collaborations between space start-ups, SMEs and the key stakeholders across the wider Australian space sector.

Kimberley finds time to focus on another collaboration, this time for the Defence Materials Technology Centre.

The independent not-for-profit organisation operates collaborative innovation programs in the Australian defence and national security context. Kimberley is Program Leader of the recently established High Altitude Sensor Systems Program, currently a portfolio of four projects focused on the development of new sensor systems and related technologies for small satellites. Each project team includes partners from both the research sector and industry. While the results will assist Defence with its future space capabilities, civilian benefits will also follow.

“All of these projects will advance the Australian space industry and the development of sovereign space capabilities for Australia,” says Kimberley.

It is these types of projects where space technology can assist with many of the challenges we face in Australia, including climate change mitigation, environmental management, agricultural biosecurity plus societal benefits.

Having given her personal time as a volunteer educator with the South Australian Space School for 15 years, Kimberley is also keen for the education sector to embrace a deeper level of involvement in space sciences.

“We need to actively engage Australia’s young talent in space activities through STEM outreach. Fostering and nurturing the ideas and energy that the next generation can bring to the sector is key to Australia’s success,” she says.

Want more space? See how we're supporting the Australian space sector.