Space is the new frontier for Australia’s Defence Force. And Crystal Forrester is at the forefront of new space technology in Defence.
Crystal trained as an aerospace engineer, taking every space-related subject she could. But a semester exchange at the University of Texas gave her space career a big boost. One subject was a team project designing a crewed lunar rover. The team got to go to NASA in Houston to look at their different rovers and how they were designed.
“I actually took that subject by accident,” Crystal says. “I didn’t realise it was their equivalent of a final year engineering project.”
After graduating, Crystal joined the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST). Her research at DST has looked at the structural integrity of helicopters and using composite materials in fast jets.
A lot of her work has involved testing materials to see how damage spreads. “I did a test on an F18 wing, dropping weights on it to damage the composite material and test how it grows,” she says. “I have done a lot of quite physical, hands-on work.”
Now, she works closely with experts from industry and academia to explore the future of space technology in the defence sector. This includes projects in Defence’s STaR Shots program. (STaR stands for Space, Technology and Research). The STaR Shots are long-term research projects that look ten years into the future with the aim to develop cutting edge technology.
One project looks at making satellites more autonomous and resilient in the space environment. “There’s a lot that satellites could do on their own, if we design them to,” says Crystal. “Things like data processing, so that the satellite only sends the data we actually need back to Earth. Or being able to manoeuvre itself to maintain orbit or avoid a collision.”
The ultimate goal is to design and demonstrate constellations of small satellites that can survive for longer in low earth orbit. They would provide secondary support to the larger and more expensive satellites, including geostationary satellites that we use for communications.
Crystal says that being an active member of the space community has been a key part of her success. “I was involved in volunteering at a lot of space conferences when I was in university,” she says. “Now, I can call on all the people that I’ve met for research advice. It's also a great way of giving back to the community."
- Crystal completed a double degree in physics and aerospace engineering at the University of Adelaide in 2009.
- In 2007, she spent a semester abroad at the University of Texas. As part of her studies, she helped design a lunar rover and visited NASA in Houston.
- Crystal did an internship at DST in 2006 and stayed on part-time while she completed her degrees. In 2010, she joined DST full-time.
- Crystal has held a number of roles at DST over the past decade. She is now the Science and Technology Lead of Space Structures in the Aerospace Division.
- In 2011, Crystal completed the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program and a Graduate Certificate in Space Studies. These programs are jointly run by the International Space University and the University of South Australia.
- Over the years, Crystal has volunteered with a number of space industry organisations and events. These include the National Space Society of Australia, the Royal Aeronautical Society and the UN’s Space Generation Advisory Council.
- In 2019, Crystal completed a Graduate Certificate in Scientific Leadership at the University of Melbourne.
- She is also a 2021-22 Superstar of STEM, providing STEM outreach to schools and the community.