Joel Lisk is living out his childhood dream, turning an obsession with space into a career. He explains how an unusual project during his Law degree at Flinders set him on his career path – and how a pandemic hobby has turned his house green.
What is your role and what does your work focus on?
I’m a Research Associate in Space Law within the Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security and Governance (JBC) at Flinders University. My role is focused on the exploration and examination of laws, regulations and policies that apply to space activities. The majority of my work is dedicated to understanding how laws and policies in Australia (and other countries across the world) promote, enable or limit the development and deployment of new technologies for space, as well as the movement of activities humans have traditionally undertaken on the ground to space. I describe my work as trying to understand what businesses like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Maxar and Planet (as well as a host of Australian start-ups) need to succeed from a law and policy perspective, and how their experience can inform our regulatory structures in the future.
What journey brought you to this point in your career?
I’ve always been a bit space obsessed. I still have newspaper clippings from early-2000s shuttle launches and I had a signed picture of Adelaide-born astronaut Andy Thomas up on my wall for a long time through my childhood. But despite my fascination with space, I found at school that the more technical aspects of physics were not really for me, so I turned to law instead. I thought “space” was going to be nothing more than a passing interest, yet during my law degree, I had the opportunity to work on an international space policy project, the Space Security Index (with the current Director of the JBC, Professor Melissa de Zwart), which opened my eyes to the world of space law. From there, I followed my interest and worked on a range of projects involving space law and policy issues with a particular focus on the framework in Australia.
After finishing my undergraduate degrees in Law and Science (with majors in biochemistry and genetics), I enrolled in a PhD and commenced working as a lawyer with an Adelaide-based law firm. In legal practice, I specialised in regulatory matters – helping clients work through sectors with complex laws and advising on competition, consumer and data privacy issues. In this role, I was able to advise clients on space licensing and payload issues, including a potential moon mission. I joined the JBC in July 2022.
What is something you love most about your work?
At the JBC, I engage with an awesome and growing space industry comprising highly skilled and innovative entrepreneurs and businesses. While most of my engagement with industry is about laws, regulations and policies that impact space businesses and their ability to be successful, I really enjoy learning about their research and development work, and the potential new uses of Earth orbit and (maybe) beyond.
What is something you would like people to know about your role?
My role is not just about being locked in a room reading laws and policies, it is about working with industry and stakeholders across the world to fully understand how they operate and the impact of regulatory actions on their current and future plans. I also try to work with the legal industry to educate them on what ‘space law’ is and the need to understand how the sector operates to provide effective and efficient advice to businesses in the sector.
What does a normal day look like for you?
My days vary immensely, depending on what happens in the space industry around the world. I start my day by checking overnight news to see whether new technologies have been announced, or new laws, regulations or policies released in other jurisdictions that affect the space sector. I then review the latest international research and commentaries, and work through project ideas, applications, or outcomes.
How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?
Like many people during the early days of COVID, I dived into indoor plants as a new hobby. Since early 2020, my collection has rapidly grown – in both number and size. This collection now takes up quite a lot of my spare time.