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Portrait image of Nicholas Moretti

“Space touches everything” Nicholas Moretti on the importance of helping build Australian space capability

When crossed wires meant Nicholas Moretti missed the call from Microsoft national chief technology officer, Lee Hickin, he thought he’d blown it. After all, Moretti didn’t know Hickin – he’d just reached out via a couple of LinkedIn contacts and messages after being “really excited about the sort of things Microsoft was doing” in space.

When Hickin rescheduled the chat for the next day, Moretti was delighted. He also found himself on his way to being hired as Senior Program Manager for Microsoft’s Australian Azure Space team.

Today, he’s based at Lot Fourteen, the innovation precinct in the heart of Adelaide, where Microsoft has set up a launchpad for its Australian space operations. He’s working with Lynn McDonald, the former US Air Force Colonel, who’s now based in Canberra and leading Microsoft’s Azure Space team in Australia.  Together Nick, Lynn and the rest of the Azure Space team are focussed on integrating the Azure cloud platform with an ecosystem of space partners, driving innovation in the industry, enabling space startups, and engaging with customers across public and private sectors who can benefit from democratised access to space connectivity, data and analytics, and space-enabled technologies..

Born and bred in South Australia, Moretti also has an engineering degree from the University of Adelaide. He was working for KPMG in Sydney when he had that first conversation with Lee Hickin, but the return to Adelaide made perfect sense.

Connecting the dots

Adelaide, and more specifically Lot Fourteen, is the epicentre of space activity in Australia; it’s the sort of place where you’ll forge new and important connections while you pick up your coffee or lock up your bike.

It’s connections that have shaped Moretti’s career. He acknowledges that he didn’t have dreams of being an astronaut or building rockets as a kid – but he did like making stuff out of wood and Lego. He also liked taking things apart to figure out how they worked.

So, in 2013, when he was in his final years at University and had the chance to work on the SUSat project to build a satellite it made perfect sense. He could build something and find out how things worked in space all at once.

Nicholas Moretti with Professor Tat Jun Chin
Professor Tat-Jun Chin University of Adelaide SmartSat CRC Professorial Chair of Sentient Satellites at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning with Nicholas Moretti

The connections he made during that time then led to an offer to become the first employee of Adelaide-based space start up Inovor Technologies. He became Inovor’s space technologies program lead and during that time also contracted into the Department of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Group on multiple occasions to work on data and information fusion and autonomous intelligent space surveillance systems.

It’s perhaps not surprising that when he’s with his mum, dad and two sisters; “I just get paid out for being the nerd in the family with mild OCD.”

After just over six years with Inovor, Moretti shifted gears to expand his horizons and connections, this time by working with KPMG.

It was during his time there that he first came across Azure Space and was “super impressed”. He was impressed enough to do the LinkedIn shuffle to connect to Lee Hickin.

Cool stuff counts

Besides being impressed by Azure Space and the array of technologies Microsoft was bringing to bear, Moretti liked the partnerships focus. Yes, the company has space expertise – but it knows it’s not the only expert in the field.

Moretti believes that this approach of partnering with other businesses and working with space startups will help Microsoft accelerate to the leading edge of space technology, push boundaries, and develop solutions to support organisations on and off the planet.

Since joining Microsoft, that belief has been vindicated he says; “I haven’t seen much ambition to do run of the mill stuff. It’s very much ‘push the boundaries, be really innovative and do cool stuff’.”

And in space, cool stuff counts.

Space touches everything

Using space data, such as GPS and satellite images, to monitor and manage the environment; helping farmers optimise yields; advancing autonomous mining; streamlining transport and providing emergency service support are just a handful of potential use cases.

“Space touches everything,” says Moretti. And in Australia the potential is magnified.

Australia as a country has a lot of land mass and not a lot of people. I think space data really enhances your ability to be able to use land better – monitoring crops, monitoring water.

“Understanding the vegetation or underneath that vegetation, the soil. I think there’s a huge amount of impacts from a commercial point of view, but if you can start of monitoring these things and understanding how they’re changing, I think there’s some really interesting things that you can do with space data.”

The opportunities seem limitless, but to keep himself grounded when he’s not working with customers and partners, or at Lot Fourteen, Moretti takes to the great outdoors. He nominates fishing as one of his favourite pastimes and the way he spends his Microsoft mindfulness days.

He likes to go camping as well. And at night, with the fire crackling and the stars up above, he can map out a great future – all the way to infinity and beyond.