Space dedication

Australia's first satellite launched from Woomera in 1967
Supplied: National Archives of Australia
25 September 2017

The Australian Government intends to establish a dedicated national space agency that will support the domestic space industry.

It is one of the key issues being examined by an Expert Reference Group appointed to review Australia's space industry capability.

According to a Government statement, the review is well advanced, and the feedback it has received in its extensive consultation process has overwhelmingly shown the need for the establishment of a national space agency.

The Reference Group is now developing a charter for the agency to be included in a wider strategy to be released in 2018.

There is a bipartisan view that Australia needs to step up its game in space, and on the day the Government announced its intention, the Opposition released the first phase of its Australian Space Science and Industry Plan, including a committment to create an Australian Space Science and Industry Agency.

And it's high-time for Australia. While geographically ideally positioned in the southern hemishphere, we are one of only two OECD nations without a dedicated space agency that could serve as a first port of call for industry and as a source of advice for Government.

The global space economy has been growing rapidly, to US$329 billion ($412 billion) in 2016, according to a recent report by the US Space Foundation.

Australia's space industry, comprising some 60 start-ups, is estimated at $3-4 billion, and is set to increase signficantly over the next years.

The potential has not gone unrecognised by the South Australian Government, which together with the ACT has been pushing for a national Space Agency headquartered in the southern state.

In September, ahead of the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, it announced the creation of a South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC), the first of its kind in Australia. According to Premier Jay Weatherill, it will fuel space industry innovation in the State, "and it positions the State to be part of a National Space Agency – which SA has been advocating for".

SASIC will provide grants of $1 million per year to develop local space businesses, and encourage research and development.

The State hopes to be at the centre of a burgeoning space industry in Australia, and much of its claim rests on the historical use of the Woomera Prohibited Area as site to launch rockets and satellites into space.

But Defense has already made unhappy noises about the prospect of a private space industry setting up shop at Woomera.

Meanwhile the Northern Territory put its up its hand for an Australian space industry at Australia's Top End. According to an ABC report, the chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia, Brett Biddington, said it made sense because of the NTs remoteness and proximity to the equator.

In any case, at present there isn't a commercial rocket test or launch range in Australia, while emerging rocket companies, such as Gilmour Space Technologies, are calling out for one.


Gilmours founder, Adam Gilmour, writes in his blog: "The ability to launch from our home ground is a competitive advantage that should not be underestimated. It would give us direct access to space in a time when launch opportunities are scarce, political and expensive; provide high-value jobs up/downstream from rocket manufacturing and launch (e.g. for parts and equipment, launch site management, launch sales); and enhance national security by reducing Australia's heavy reliance on our allies for space-related infrastructure and launch."

For the moment, though, this is still up in the stars

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