Australia wants a slice of the booming private space industry, and it’s launching an agency to capitalise on it.
The Australian Government announced on Monday at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide that it would commit to launching a space agency, following a review of the country’s space capability and years of calls to establish one.
“The case for establishing an Australian space agency is compelling. And so, I am pleased today to announce that the Australian Government will be establishing a national space agency,” South Australian senator Simon Birmingham said.
“The global space industry is growing rapidly and it’s crucial that Australia is part of this growth,” acting science minister Michaelia Cash said in a statement.
“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 announcement has bipartisan support, with opposition party Labor also committing to the creation of a space agency.
Australia’s space industry needs coordination
While Australia has been involved in space for decades, the formation of an agency will help coordinate the country’s space capabilities.
“There’s a lot of isolated or semi-isolated chunks of capability in Australia. We can do instrumentation, we can do space missions now … but it’s all been somewhat disjointed,” Russell Boyce, the chair for space engineering at UNSW Canberra, said.
“It’s been a case of the community rolling up their sleeves and providing space capability to the nation, without any coordination or priority setting.
“Establishing an agency for Australia is about establishing priorities, making sure they’re the right ones, so that we can as a nation develop capabilities to meet national needs and opportunities. That’s got to be done with coordination, and that’ll be a major part of its responsibility.”
New Zealand already has a space agency
Australia is the largest OECD country without a space agency, but the announcement means the exciting possibility of collaborating with its neighbour (and rival), New Zealand.
“Australia already has many functions of an agency already, and we do it quite well,” Boyce said.
“New Zealand in that sense was playing catch-up, but in doing so they provided coordination and many things are starting to flourish in New Zealand. So, by Australia having its own agency, there’s going to be trans-Tasman opportunities … there are enormous opportunities for coordination and development in this part of the world.”
But unlike New Zealand, Australia still has some way to go when it comes to actually launching rockets.
“There are a number of players in Australia proposing space launch capabilities, and putting quite some effort into developing it. There would be some credible ones, and some less credible ones,” said Boyce.
“But the process of actually pulling it off, will require an all of Australia effort. Like a combination of government, industry and research sector pulling it together to make it happen, just like New Zealand.”
The right rocket launch sites need to be found, taking into account environmental concerns (e.g. launching over the Great Barrier Reef would be a concern) and international flight paths.
“New Zealand has an advantage in that regard … launching on the east coast of New Zealand over the South Pacific, there’s very little in the way,” Boyce said.
“At the same time, there are many opportunities globally to access reasonable cost space launch, and one of them is right next door in New Zealand.”
An agency will help Aussie space businesses stay local
For Australia’s burgeoning Space 2.0 industry, the news finally signals the country’s government taking its role in space seriously.
Gilmour Space Technologies, based in both Singapore and Pimpama, Queensland, is one of a number of companies around the world developing rockets, looking to compete for business in the thriving low-cost space launch market.
“It’s fantastic news. We think it’s going to be a great catalyst for the Australian space industry, and allow us to stand tall among our peers in the global space market,” Adam Gilmour, CEO and founder of Gilmour Space Technologies, said via email.
“[It] would definitely benefit us to have the capability to conduct activities within, for, and from Australia.”
Gilmour hopes to see a change in space regulations following this announcement, one that would make launching in Australia viable, and thus allow the company to continue operating in the country.
“Space is a global business, but as an Australian company, it would definitely benefit us to have the capability to conduct activities within, for, and from Australia,” he added.
For the likes of Fleet, an Adelaide and Sydney-based company which aims to connect the Internet of Things by designing, building and operating an army of low-cost, small satellites, an agency will allow space businesses to “stay local.”
“No longer will space startups like Fleet, or Gilmour, or [Denver/Sydney company] Saber Astronautics have to rely 100 percent on overseas and private parties for support — be it financial or assistance on things like to market strategies, technology development, or the establishment of international relationships,” Flavia Tata Nardini, co-founder and CEO of Fleet Space Technologies, said in a statement via email.
“For me, the move shows that the Australian Federal Government is serious about space and innovation and the potential it brings, which is incredibly exciting and promising.”