Virgin Galactic chief operating officer Enrico Palermo has been appointed as the new Australian Space Agency chief executive, taking over at a time when the local sector is “on a knife’s edge” and the agency facing criticism for moving too slowly.
Mr Palermo will take over from Dr Megan Clark, who has led the space agency since it was launched in 2018, in January. Dr Clark will then become chair of the agency’s advisory board.
A graduate of the University of Western Australia, Mr Palermo is returning to Australia to take the role after joining Virgin Galactic in 2006 as one of the company’s first employees.
Before being promoted to the role of chief operating officer, Mr Palermo served as president of the Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s aerospace systems manufacturing organisation.
“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,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Industry minister Karen Andrews pointed to Mr Palermo’s background in engineering, commercialisation and innovation.
“Mr Palermo’s skill set reflects the reality of the space sector, which is about so much more than just research or launch – it improves life on earth and creates opportunities in a range of areas including manufacturing,” Ms Andrews said.
“The economic benefits of space exploration are vast, with highly-skilled jobs right along the supply chain from manufacturing to robotics, engineering and resource,” she said.
The appointment comes at a critical time for the space agency, which has now been up and running for more than two years.
At a recent Senate Estimates hearing, crossbench senator Rex Patrick raised concerns held within the sector that the agency is not moving fast enough and put the industry at risk of “shutting down before it starts”.
This particularly related to the agency not having yet issued any launch permits in Australia, stunting some attempts in recent months.
“I’ve spoken to companies that are investing millions of dollars of their money and the space agency is not keeping up by any stretch of the imagination. That’s what’s been communicated to me by industry,” Senator Patrick said.
“We are on a knife’s edge. You’ve got 12 applications in and the companies who are seeking to use Australian launch facilities are very worried about their payload to the point where some are no longer willing to commit to Australia. If we don’t get it right now there will be no future.”