Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Sasanelli, Dr N.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (17:20): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges the outstanding contribution Dr Nicola Sasanelli AM has made to:

(a) the establishment of the South Australian Space Industry Centre;

(b) supporting and promoting the development and growth of South Australia’s space industry sector;

(c) developing international strategies, policies and agreements for government agencies, universities, industry and research institutions in the fields of space, science and technology;

(d) the formation of the Andy Thomas Space Foundation and his leadership as chief executive officer; and

(e) strengthening bilateral relations between Australia and Italy.

2. Congratulates Dr Sasanelli on his distinguished public service and career achievements in Italy and in Australia and extends to him the best wishes in retirement.

It gives me much pleasure today to be able to acknowledge the enormous contributions made to this state and this country in the fields of science, education, diplomacy and space of Dr Nicola Sasanelli AM, also a fellow Italo-Australian. Nicola—or Nic, as many know him—formally retired a week ago, and his career and illustrious achievements were recognised at a farewell function organised by the South Australian Space Industry Centre at Lot Fourteen.

I will dub Nic our 'star man' because of his infectious passion and enthusiastic commitment as one of the driving forces in developing and making Adelaide the space capital of Australia and helping establish the Lot Fourteen space centre as an important hub for learning and innovation as well as an investment opportunity in an exciting industry with the potential for massive growth—not that it has not taken off already, with expectations it will soon become a multibillion dollar industry.

When he retired, Nic was the Chief Executive Officer of the Andy Thomas Foundation, which he founded in 2020 and which is named, of course, after our distinguished South Australian NASA astronaut, Dr Andy Thomas. The valedictory speeches given by a galaxy of distinguished figures, including Dr Thomas, reflected his love for his work, starting in Italy as an electrical engineer specialising in microelectronics and high-tech components.

He was appointed as a scientific attaché to the Italian Embassy in Canberra and moved on to the University of Canberra as an adjunct professor of science and technology. He worked for the South Australian government in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet as a special envoy for higher education research and technology transfer to Europe. He joined Defence SA in 2016 as a director of the space industry, mapping out strategies for growth, before his appointment as Director of the South Australian Space Industry Centre.

He was appointed as director of communication and outreach with leading international consortium SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, a collaboration of universities and research organisations, to develop advanced communications and satellite technologies. I have not even mentioned his diplomatic efforts in furthering and strengthening bilateral ties with his native Italy and his new homeland, Australia.

It was clear Nicola is held in the highest regard and affection by all those who have been infected by his lively personality, leadership qualities, knowledge and insatiable work ethic. He has crammed a lot in since graduating from the University of Bari in southern Italy in 1987. His curriculum vitae simply overflows with impressive achievements and milestones, too many to mention here. I discovered that as well as being a smart guy, Nicola is a published author and a talented artist, although I do not think he is quite in the Italian masters category just yet.

In his own speech, humble Nicola chose to speak not about himself but his own aspirations for science, his love for what they call at Lot Fourteen 'the space ecosystem' and the progress taking place at the space centre in building our country's sovereign space capability through ongoing research and development.

I happened to be in Bari on an assignment for the Seven Network around the same time a young Nicola was completing his studies. I wish that happenstance occurred then so our paths crossed a lot sooner than they did. Nonetheless, I am happy that it happened only just a couple of years ago and I became imbued with his spirit and lust for all things in the heavens above.

Each time I bumped into Nicola at events, he would encourage me to visit the set-up at the space centre. Last year, I finally took my first steps into Lot Fourteen with my wife and a group of other members of the South Australian Italian Association for a tour guided by the irrepressible Nicola.

I was simply blown away with what I experienced and what we have there. From a dinky-di mission control centre, where there is a live shot showing nearly 30,000 satellites in orbit around the Earth, which are observed and can be redirected from Adelaide to prevent collisions, to the innovative space research and development going on there, including a start-up project to turn space junk into fuel and sophisticated artificial intelligence research. The staff, made up mostly of university students, under Nicola at the Andy Thomas Foundation, also share his passionate enthusiasm.

As the speakers at Nicola's farewell pointed out, there is a lot of work going on here and internationally in making South Australia once more the centre of space technology. There was even a hint that big rockets may again be launched from Woomera one day. Nicola also got me excited about the huge ecotourism benefits just waiting to be harvested in this state with the development of a dark sky reserve in the Murraylands.

Nicola introduced me to Dr Don Bursill, a former Chief Scientist in South Australia and one-time boss of SA Water, who is one of the proponents of this exciting project, which will give visitors to the reserve the opportunity to view the Milky Way and the planets through powerful telescopes. Unfortunately, the flooding of the Murray River has temporarily put things on hold. With Don and Nicola's help, I am hoping to reschedule an evening trip to the area for parliamentary colleagues to view constellations in one of the darkest areas on Earth. This is a huge advantage we have in this state over others because there is little to no artificial light to spoil views in the evenings. I will urge our government to get behind this emerging ecotourism potential.

Nicola Sasanelli does not strike me as being the retiring type. He has just founded and is Chairman of Agora High-Tech, a private consultancy company. I am sure Nicola's extraordinary talents, advice and vast knowledge will continue to be sought. I commend this motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.