As Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency, Anthony Murfett is Space Agent Two. Anthony has been with the Agency since it launched in 2018 and looks after strategy, policy and operations.
But space was not always Anthony’s dream. In fact, he started out studying biotechnology.
“I was interested in cancer research and vaccine design,” he says. “The idea was to do my PhD, be a researcher, become a professor, and cure cancer. But my career took a very different path.”
Living in Canberra surrounded by members of the public service, Anthony took a job at the Australian Patent Office (“just like Albert Einstein”). He examined pharmaceutical patents for a while before moving into intellectual property (IP) policy and project management. But as the business side of the job took over, Anthony found himself missing the scientific element. He moved over to the Australian Research Council where he looked after $700 million worth of research funding.
From there, Anthony started working at the Department of Industry leading a number of branches. This included running the $6oo million Cooperative Research Centres program and designing and implementing the Industry Growth Centres program. Then, in 2015, Anthony was sent to Washington DC. His mission was to spend three years exploring what Australia could learn from innovation in the United States and where Australia could excel. That’s where the space industry captured his imagination.
“Everywhere I travelled, you could see the transformation of the space sector,” Anthony says. “Elon Musk and SpaceX were gaining traction and the commercial sector was growing. I kept running into Australians, especially at NASA facilities. And Americans kept asking me: why isn’t Australia doing more in space?”
Anthony was about to finish his role in Washington just as the Australian Space Agency was being established, and he was lucky enough to be appointed Deputy Head. “I never thought I would be a key executive of a space agency,” he says. “It's an immense and humbling opportunity to be able to undertake this type of public service.”
After three years at the Agency, Anthony says the number one highlight is the team. But they are number one in a very long list of highlights. Seeing the Agency’s logo next to NASA’s at the Moon to Mars announcement at NASA’s Headquarters was one. Signing the Artemis Accords and supporting JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission were two others.
But Anthony is even more excited about what’s ahead. “Australia has some great opportunities in the growing space economy,” he says. “The first part is showing how space is central to so many parts of our lives and will continue to improve our lives in the future. The second is showing where Australia can play a role. Australia also has specific capabilities that the world needs, like in robotics and automation – and the world wants Australia at the table. Importantly, we can leverage our 60 years of experience with NASA, from Apollo to more recently.”
Meanwhile, outside of work, Anthony has another mission. An avid cyclist, he is on track to ride the distance to the Moon. He says he is more than halfway to his goal of 384,400 kilometres. But what will he do when he gets there?
“I might take a day off riding, just for the day,” he says. “And then think about riding the distance to Mars.”
- Anthony completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Biotechnology) at the University of Queensland in 1999.
- He then completed an honours year in immunology at the Australian National University in 2001.
- Anthony’s first role was at the Australian Patent Office (now called IP Australia). He was a patent examiner for pharmaceutical patents before focusing on IP policy.
- After six years in the patent office, he moved to a role at the Australian Research Council (ARC). In this role, he coordinated the ARC’s $700 million funding program.
- He then spent a decade within the Department of Industry leading several branches. These included managing the Cooperative Research Centres program and designing and delivering the Industry Growth Centres program.
- In 2015, Anthony was appointed Minister Counsellor for Industry, Science and Education in the Australian Embassy in Washington DC. In this role, he travelled around the US learning how to build innovation ecosystems and exploring innovation opportunities for Australia. It was through Anthony’s time in the US that he saw the immense potential for Australia to capitalise on the opportunities in the growing global space economy.
- In 2018, Anthony returned to Australia to take up the role of Deputy Head at the Australian Space Agency.