It’s not all about astronauts and rockets: today’s space industry encompasses a diverse range of job opportunities – including the field of space law.

As a young child, Joel Lisk thrilled to visions of space shuttle launches and dreamed of a career in the space industry. But, with physics not his strong subject, a career as an astronaut or engineer was ruled out. Instead, Lisk studied law and biosciences at university, where he found the perfect union of his skills and passion – space law.

Today, as an associate at Cowell Clarke Commercial Lawyers, a growing part of his role involves working with clients in the space sector. So what does a space lawyer actually do?

“Space law covers a range of areas – I like to think of it as based around the life cycle of the space activity,” he explains. “When a rocket is launched, there are permits and laws that govern safety to protect the people performing the launch as well as the general public, because the last thing you want is a rocket landing on your house.

“Then there is space traffic management – how your satellite orbits the Earth and interacts with other satellites in space; radio communications laws which are incredibly complex, convoluted and technical; and laws that govern what happens when your satellite no longer works – how it comes back down to Earth and burns up in the atmosphere.”

The flurry of space start-ups in Adelaide also keeps Lisk busy. “I love the idea of using the law we have today to enable the activities of these start-ups and new businesses, ensuring they can fit in to what might not have been designed for them but finding a pathway to say, ‘Yes, we can do something fun and cool’,” he says.

“For me, the mix between being a space nerd and a lawyer is finding the pathways to let new things happen. Watching sci-fi become reality is interesting and amazing at the same time.”

Lisk, who is now working towards gaining a PhD in Space Law at The University of Adelaide, is also delighted that he doesn’t have to leave his home state to find an exciting and rewarding career.

“When I started uni seven or eight years ago, in my mind it was, ‘Where are the careers in law? They’re interstate. Where are all the exciting international businesses? They’re all in Sydney and Melbourne’.

“In the past four or five years, I think that position has entirely changed – there are so many opportunities here now than there were a decade ago. I don’t have to leave Adelaide to do different and interesting things – I can stay here and I don’t need to leave that more relaxed lifestyle, I don’t have to spend millions of dollars on a one-bedroom apartment.”

Originally published on Future Adelaide.

Watch: Joel’s career in space ▸