It’s happening: Australian space agency tipped for $41m funding

By on 8 May, 2018

SpaceX’s PAZ mission, carrying the first satellites for the Starlink constellation, lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in February 2018. Image: SpaceX via Flickr.

Australia’s national space agency will receive an allocated $41 million in federal funding, with $15 million of that dedicated to partnerships with international space agencies. 

This is fantastic news for our burgeoning space industry, and space-reliant businesses that are rapidly developing in anticipation of its expansion, but some experts warn there is much that is currently undefined that will be crucial to the formation of a strong and progressive agency.

CEO of space startup Fleet Space Technologies Flavia Tata-Nardini welcomed the official announcement of the agency’s funding in the 2018 budget.

“This year’s Federal budget is the first ever budget to include funding for an Australian Space Agency. This is huge. This is the moment that everything changes. In twenty years time, we will be looking back and pinpointing this period as one of the most transformational in Australian history,” she said.

“Whether we realise it or not, space technology is a huge part of our daily lives. The Australian Space industry will touch the lives of each and every Australian, giving us the chance to play a growing role in this critical industry.”

Tipped to receive $50 million federal funding in media reports last week, the final announcement revised that figure down to $41 million.

Responding to the initial reports, Professor Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW, welcomed news of the funding but noted other factors yet to be defined as critical to the agency’s success and longevity.

“An area where short-term wins can be achieved would be the facilitation of the formation of space start-ups. The question of whether a budget [of $50 million] is enough for a capable agency can be assessed in terms of the Australian Space Research Program, which ran from 2010-2013 and did many useful things with $40 million, without launching anything directly within that program,” he said.

“The launches of several cubesats and four UNSW GPS receivers in 2017 could be seen as a consequence of that earlier funding.”

The Australian Space Research Program also helped South Australian space-reliant startup Myriota commercialise their technology, who recently cleared $15m in Series A venture capital.

The new national agency will be headed by former CSIRO director Megan Clarke for its first year, according to media reports. Clarke also chaired the Expert Reference Group, a key body in the government’s recent review of Australia’s space industry capability. You can read published responses to the government’s industry review here.

“Without detail, it’s difficult to say where the funds will be spent but there are things we will look for that will ensure the agency’s long-term success, such as the appointment of technical people, who can proactively assess programs that lead to Australian assets in space solving Australian problems,” Professor Dempster said.

“The concern in the past has been that funding for space has been stop-start, so more important than the figure will be the commitment to funding the agency over an extended period. The appointment of Megan Clarke bodes well for an agency that will have that longevity.”

Gaby van Wyk, president of the Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI), also welcomed the announcement, noting Australia’s unique geographical advantages and the key role that spatial professionals play in promotion of the space industry globally.

“Whilst several space-focused startups have made an impact nationally and internationally, they have done so without the overarching strength of a national space agenda and a strong agency to support that. Those startups show the commitment of the private sector to a successful Australian space industry,” van Wyk said.

“I place on record the full commitment of SSSI, and Australia’s spatial professionals, to working closely with the new space agency, the Federal Government and the business sector. I know that together we will ensure outstanding scientific, commercial and community outcomes for the new agency and for Australia’s space program,” he said.

Stay tuned, this article will be updated as more details are announced.

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