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Samuel Forbes has always loved the ocean, but his career has taken him deeper than he might have expected. After leaving university, Sam started working in the oil and gas industry and quickly became interested in subsea robotics.

“There’s a whole world where you sit in a room behind screens, controlling robots that are up to 4,000 metres underwater,” he says. “That’s what triggered my interest. Going into the unknown and looking at these subsea structures in locations that humans can’t go.”

For five years, Sam worked as a robotics operator on boats off the shores of Western Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. He then decided it was time to bring his career back to shore. He found a role with international geodata company Fugro, and started working on the management side of subsea operations.

When oil and gas prices plummeted in 2015, Fugro started looking at new ways to grow the business. Sam and his team started experimenting with the concept of autonomous boats. In the process, they came up with another idea.

“We learned that we could leverage satellite communications to support our offshore operations,” Sam says. They realised that with a satellite connection, there was no reason for robotics operators to be on the boats. Instead, they could be stationed onshore at a centralised location. Operators now control their robots from Fugro’s Remote Operations Centre based at Telstra’s Perth International Telecommunications Centre in Gnangara.

It wasn’t long before they realised that their ideas could be applied in space.

“The challenges in space are similar to subsea,” Sam says. “The logistics are a little bit harder, but the operations are similar. Australia is good at remote operations in harsh environments. The question is, how do we capitalise on that in space?”

In 2020, Fugro announced that it was partnering with the Australian Space Agency on a new robotics control complex. It’s called the Australian Space Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Control Complex (SpAARC). It will be located in Perth and Sam is leading the project.

In the future, operators at SpAARC will be able to manoeuvre robots in space from the complex in Perth. “I’m really excited about supporting the advancement of commercial space, as well as NASA’s Artemis program and building the lunar foundation,” Sam says. SpAARC will also support partners such as Curtin University in their space research missions.

“I’m hoping that SpAARC can play a significant role in supporting missions on the lunar surface and beyond.”

Samuel’s journey

  • Sam completed a Bachelor of Science (Aquatic Resources Management) at Curtin University in 2006.
  • He started working in the oil and gas industry not long after that, and quickly developed an interest in subsea operations.
  • Over the next few years, Sam worked as a robotics operator on boats off the shores of Western Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • He then returned to shore and found a management role with Fugro in Perth.
  • Sam worked in a number of roles at Fugro before becoming the General Manager of Fugro Remote Systems Technology.
  • In 2020, Sam was appointed director of the Australian Space Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Control Complex (SpAARC).
  • He is also a non-executive director for AROSE – Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth. AROSE brings together leaders from industry, academia and government to help identify opportunities in the space sector.