Australia signs on to US moonshot

By on 25 September, 2019

A new agreement between the Australian Space Agency and NASA sees a $150 million commitment to develop technology for lunar and Mars missions.

Scott Morrison announced the $150 million contribution to Donald Trump’s Mars mission at NASA’s Washington DC headquarters over the weekend.

Under the agreement, the Australian Space Agency will disburse these funds over five years to support research and development of materials and technologies that NASA needs for its deep space ambitions.

“We’re backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back,” Mr. Morrison said.

“We’re getting behind Australian businesses so they can take advantage of the pipeline of work NASA has committed to.”

The work package includes the controversial and increasingly politicised Artemis program, which aims to establish a sustainable, habitable base on the moon by 2024.

Mr. Morrison said that Australia could play a role in contributing to minerals exploration, automation systems and other equipment for spacecraft.

“We’re pretty good at mining in Australia,” he said.

Whilst the timing commitment and motivations of NASA’s lunar and Mars missions may be murky, the benefit to Australia’s high end engineering and research sector will be crystal clear.

The news was welcomed by Professor John Shine, president of the Australian Academy of Science.

“The Government’s space investment builds on a long history of cooperation between Australia and the US in space missions and will have a lasting impact on the growing space industry and workforce in Australia,” he said.

A range of other science-related initiatives were also announced, covering specific provisions for areas of bilateral cooperation and collaboration.

These included a commitment to develop a critical minerals action plan to increase trade between Australia and the US in rare earth minerals, important raw elements in developing high end electronic componentry and advanced composites.

Other initiatives announced included an agreement to cooperate on reducing marine plastic debris and improving waste management, opportunities for Australian scientists to advise on lithium-ion recycling and on hydrogen safety, and cooperation between the National Science Foundation and Australian researchers.

“The bilateral agreements between Australia and the US provide opportunities for Australian scientists to contribute their expertise to a number of issues of global importance, where science will be critical to finding environmental and technology solutions,” Professor Shine said.

“The announcements are a reminder of the importance science plays as a soft power asset in international engagement.”

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