Australia names first space commander

Michael Weaver 21 May 2021
Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts

Head of Air Force Capability Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts at No 34 Squadron. Photo: CPL Veronica O’Hara.

After a near 40-year career in the Royal Australian Air Force that has taken her to great heights, Canberra-based Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts is now focused even higher as the incoming head of Defence’s Space Division.

Air Vice-Marshal Roberts will be the first person to lead the Space Division, which has been established to reflect the Defence’s mission to operate in all areas.

As part of the Chief of Air Force’s review to improve how space capabilities are managed, acquired and operated, Air Vice-Marshal Roberts will ensure all space operations are conducted in accordance with our international and domestic legal obligations.

Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld said the rarified air above Earth is used daily to understand the weather, navigate, access geospatial information, and share information across Australia or the world.

“Defence will need capabilities that directly contribute to outcomes in space as a contested domain; however, this does not mean that Defence encourages the militarisation of space,” Air Marshal Hupfeld said.

“The Government has committed to significantly increasing investment in Defence’s space capabilities by investing around $7 billion this decade to ensure our access to space, space services and geospatial information.”

Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts

Head of Air Force Capability Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts with an engineering model of the M2 CubeSat at UNSW Canberra. Photo: Sgt Oliver Carter, Department of Defence.

For Defence’s first space commander, Air Vice-Marshal Roberts said the position was a dream come true.

“To reach for the stars and actually get there is a phenomenal feeling,” she said.

“As an aerospace engineer, I have always been fascinated by space – the ultimate high-ground.”


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Air Vice-Marshal Roberts, who will begin her new role early next year, is a self-professed science fiction buff who has always been fascinated by advanced technology and space.

She is currently Air Force’s inaugural Head of Air Force Capability, responsible for imagining, designing and shaping the needs and future requirements of air and space power for the joint force.

A Member of the Order of Australia for her exceptional service in aerospace acquisition and sustainment, Air Vice-Marshal Roberts joined the RAAF in 1983 as a specialist in aerospace engineering at the Aircraft Research and Development Unit.

She has since held more than 20 roles, including working with Logistics Command on the F/A-18 and Macchi aircraft. She has also worked on flight line maintenance at No 77SQN and as a senior engineering officer at 481SQN at RAAF Base Williamtown.

Air Vice-Marshal Roberts also spent a significant part of her career posted in the UK as the assistant Air Force advisor in London, engaging on Air Force capability and commanding Air Force personnel embedded in UK units and on UK operations.

Her long list of credentials includes being a Fellow of Engineers Australia, a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Defence representative on the Australian Space Agency Advisory Group.

Air Vice-Marshal Roberts has a passion for diversity and is involved in assisting women to enter aerospace and STEM through her work with Women in Aviation/Aerospace Australia and Women in Aviation International (Australian Chapter). She has been a mentor in both the Future Through Collaboration (Defence and Industry) and Superstars of STEM programs.


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