Australia to launch national space agency

By on 27/09/2017
The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (Image courtesy: Maksym Kozlenko).

The Australian government has announced it’s setting up a national space agency, in a bid to seize a bigger share of the multi-billion-dollar global industry.

The move was announced at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, South Australia on Monday, following a campaign to boost the country’s space efforts involving groups from academia, industry and the public sector.

Australia is one of only two OECD countries that do not have a space agency.

Cash aims for the stars

Michaelia Cash, acting minister for industry, innovation and science, said the new agency will be “the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement” in space technology.

“The global space industry is growing rapidly and it’s crucial that Australia is part of this growth,” she said. “A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry.”

The federal government set up an expert reference group to study the scope for developing Australia’s space industry in July 2017. The group, which is chaired by Dr Megan Clark, former head of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has received nearly 200 written submissions and held meetings across the country. It will now develop a charter for the agency to be included in its report on space industry strategy, which is due out by March 2018.

More than 400 people have been consulted through round-table events in every state and territory, and views have also been taken from regional governments and other key stakeholders.

1960s efforts misfired

Michaelia Cash, the Australian government’s acting minister for industry, innovation and science (Image courtesy: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

In 1967, Australia became the world’s third country to build and launch a satellite from its own site, but its space programme subsequently declined. Today it has only 0.8% of the US$330 billion global space industry and relies heavily on satellites built or operated overseas, according to Science magazine.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said: “As the lead agency managing Australia’s facilities for radio astronomy and spacecraft tracking – including the iconic Dish and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – we understand the huge opportunities Australia has for leveraging its capability.  But these opportunities aren’t limited to big business.

“We engage with more than 30 SMEs on a variety of space-related activities, have had more than 1700 students from across the world taking part in our space education programs, and have hundreds of people working across our aerospace and astronomy research portfolio, spanning astronomy, sensors, satellites, earth observation, big data, robotics and 3D printing.

“In a highly competitive global market and, as a nation, we need to bring something unique to the space table, besides geography. Both CSIRO and Australia as a whole are already working at world-standard in many areas of space research and industry development, and we are well positioned to improve our position as key players in national and global space and astronomy.”

CSIRO signed a deal on Monday to buy a 10% share in an innovative satellite that is being developed by the UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. The NovaSAR satellite uses radar to scan the surface of the earth in all weather and at night. Under the deal, CSIRO can direct the satellite’s activity over Australia, download data and supply it to Australian researchers.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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