Will Australia soon launch its own space agency?

By on 21 March, 2017

Picture: Carsten Frenzl

Despite having a long history in the industry, including test ranges in South Australia, the country remains one of the few OECD nations without a national space program or agency.

The Australian space sector currently produces annual revenues of up to 4 billion and employs between 9,500 and 11,500 people from its 0.8 per cent share of the global space economy, which was estimated to be worth US$330 billion in 2014.

The Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) says there is an opportunity to double in size within five years – if the Australian Government is prepared to commit to the establishment of an Australian Space Agency to lead a cohesive national space strategy.

Released today, the SIAA White Paper says the agency should have an aim of capturing 4 per cent of the world market for Australian industry within 20 years, a five-fold increase in the industry’s current global market share.

The White Paper states: “Given our large continent and small population, few  countries  are  better  suited  to  exploiting  space  technologies.

“Yet, despite world-class space infrastructure such as the Woomera test range (in South Australia), deep space tracking stations and vibrant space science and technology communities linked to a broad base of  users and consumers of these technologies, Australia is not fulfilling its potential in the global space economy and is vulnerable to sudden geo- political changes which threaten national security.”

The European Space Agency has recently invited Australia to partner with them as a non-EU member, a proposition Australian Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos said his department was looking into.

SIAA Chair Michael Davis said the White Paper had already achieved the important goals of stimulating discussion among the Australian space community and with the Australian government.

“It’s very much front of mind with the Minister for Industry, Arthur Sinodinos, and if we are to accept his measured response, the government appears to be considering very seriously the key proposition in the White Paper – the establishment of a permanent national space program overseen by a national space agency.” Davis said.

In January 2017, it was announced that the Australian Government will invest $12 million in a two-year program looking into the future of positioning technology in Australia, with the aid of the New Zealand government, GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin.

The South Australian capital Adelaide will host over 3000 delegates from around the world at the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in September 2017. The SIAA is hoping will be a catalyst for space industry growth in Australia.

In October 2016, South Australia and the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) agreed to jointly pursue space-related industries.

South Australian Minister for Defence Industries Martin Hamilton-Smith said at the time that South Australia led the way in the development of Australia’s space economy.

“Our vision is to position South Australia as a vibrant hub for future space activity and industry development,” he said.

Each year space experts from across the world meet at the University of South Australia’s Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program in Adelaide to discuss challenges and opportunities on offer in the space industry.

Davis said while South Australia was well positioned to become a hub for the space industry, the location of the agency or how much funding it would required to run had not been put forward by the SIAA.

“I’m also very aware that the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Government has shown a very strong interest and is very active in this field as well.”

Davis said the key benefits of establishing a national space agency went well beyond the obvious employment creation and potential economic benefit.

He said these included greater access to and support from international partners, more control over the infrastructure and systems relied on for national security and improved education and training opportunities.

“We want to inspire young Australians and there is no better to inspire young people to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects than to interest them in space – space exploration, space engineering even space business, law, medicine and economics,” Davis said.

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