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After 13 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, UNSW Canberra electrical engineering student Pilot Officer Matthew Dilkes is embracing the next frontier – space.
It’s an area he has always been fascinated by, but with new initiatives recently launched – including an Australian Space Agency and a Defence Space Command – he said it’s the perfect time to pursue this lifelong passion.
“I’ve been interested in space for as long as I can remember,” PLTOFF Dilkes said.
“I love the idea of how vast everything is and trying to comprehend it is so exciting.”
The third-year electrical engineering student would like to enter Space Command once he completes his degree, and he is getting as much experience in the space sector as he can as the student activity lead at UNSW Canberra Space.
PLTOFF Dilkes explained that the group of student space enthusiasts are working on a range of hands-on space activities, starting with Sprint Advanced Concept Training (SACT).
SACT events are multinational space traffic management exercises, sponsored by the US Joint Task Force Space Defense and Department of Commerce. The US has previously used SACTs as a selection tool for the nation’s Space Force and Dilkes hopes that opening these opportunities up to students in Australia and the Pacific will allow them to hit the ground in the space sector as soon as they graduate.
“The intention is to build a pathway that runs parallel to their degree,” PLTOFF Dilkes said.
“They can start with a simple exercise in their first year and then step through the years, so when they finish their degree, they also finish with experience and understanding that will allow them to excel in a space role.”
SACT exercises use real satellites performing real manoeuvres in space. The most recent event saw UNSW Canberra students flying the University’s M2 satellites in very close formation to confuse various sensors about their location and mission.
These events provide an operational testing ground for new capabilities and technologies and students across all disciplines are welcome to be involved.
However, PLTOFF Dilkes has his sights set on something even bigger than SACT.
“We would like to have a program that encompasses SACT as an event, and also includes activities such as networking with industry experts and trips away. For example, we recently had a private tour at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex,” PLTOFF Dilkes said.
This month, the group participated SpaceHack, an in-person competition for diverse teams of innovators excited by space, space technologies, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The annual event encourages collaboration and provides access to leading mentors and space companies. Short workshops help participants generate, evolve and pitch ideas to win the vote of the judges.
In addition to the external opportunities facilitated by the group, PLTOFF Dilkes said it was a rare opportunity to work alongside a team like UNSW Canberra Space.
“We’ve got such vast, experienced, educated people here,” PLTOFF Dilkes said.
“There are resources and equipment that we can utilise, and passionate people that we can learn from.”
When PLTOFF Dilkes completes his degree at the end of 2023 and he hands the reins over to his successor, he hopes the group has evolved into a larger, future-focused student initiative.
“When I leave, I’ll pass it on to the next student, so I’ll need someone else who is passionate and big-picture minded, who just wants things to grow,” he said.
“This is the funnel for ADF students, and we would like to see them graduate with more experience in space.”
Students who would like to get involved in SACT or any of the student-run space activities can contact PLTOFF Dilkes via firstname.lastname@example.org