Give Australia some space in the space race!

Australia has a history of putting to the wayside space issues and programs. Consequently, Australia lags behind the rest of the world in space innovation. It is now incumbent upon us to play catch up in the ‘space sector’. After all, we are the best country in the galaxy.

Space has been left rather unexplored for the past 100 years following Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing. Imprinting the United States legacy in the expanse of a new frontier, the Space Race of the late 20th century was over. The US and the newly founded Russian Federation later established the International Space Station.

The Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement formed the foundation of space collaboration between fifteen governments. Australia did not sign it, limiting our space capabilities in both security, technology and exploration capacities.

Jerome Schnee crystallises the importance of tapping into the wealth that space has to offer, as he estimates the indirect economic return of human space exploration, notably, the International Space Station has been many times the initial public investment 1.

Australia should pursue a space capability that rivals our closest allies. A formidable alliance could be formed between the US and Australia for both interstellar defence and innovation. There is so much potential for Australians to take the lead in space to innovate, further fortify the industry and take its rightful place internationally as a leader of the final frontier.

Space is currently used primarily for a treble of capabilities including, remote sensing of Earth, scientific exploration and communications systems. Underpinning many of the daily conveniences Australians have come to expect in their day to day living are largely due to innovation in Space technology and services.

Daily weather forecasting, online banking, GPS navigation, internet access, autonomous mining vehicles and emergency management. All of these small luxuries have space technology to thank for their existence.

Australia annually spends over 500 million dollars on satellite systems that are operated offshore. There is no guarantee that local industry will derive benefit for involvement in such programs. This damning revelation pinpoints an under-supported industry, with untapped potential.

To further deepen the wound, our local space industry does not participate in component construction or spacecraft assembly contracts that are worth millions of dollars, however, again these contracts are sent offshore.

Highlighted is a need for the local space industry to catch up to speed with more established industries to allow for further collaborative innovation in all facets of modernisation. It will take innovation and technology to pull us out of the economic downturn of COVID-19 and space exploration is one of the ways to do it. 

Nonetheless, alternative industries are capitalising on the local space industry such as the private ARIES program. It is through the development of remote sensing satellites, imaging systems can be improved – giving Australians access to world-leading capabilities. 

The Australian landmass offers a potential and stability for cost-effective rocket operations that seem to attract a number of private commercial satellite launch vehicle proponent companies. We have a comparative advantage! It isn’t rocket science. This is hinged on the international market for communications and imaging satellite systems. A market that many international competitors are also keen to secure. 

Currently government administrative arrangements for space are split between the broader policy matters within the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and the practical development program of FedSat under the CSIRO.

Current Liberal governments continue to review the space portfolio and improve its capacity to make a real difference in space. Notably the partnership with NASA on the Moon to Mars Initiative, which will see the government funding 150 million dollars over five years to enable local industry to thrive in national and international space supply chains.

The Australian Space Agency has designed three integrated elements into the initiative.

  • The Supply Chain program, that aims to support engagement and facilitation of the local space industry in the international project.
  • The Trailblazer project, that intends to contribute flagship Australian space capabilities within the international space exploration program, displaying to the world that Australia has both competitive strengths and capabilities in space.
  • The Demonstrator project, that desires to enable new revenue streams, business ventures and markets. That will foster new space capabilities and an Australian space identity, legacy and heritage.

Much is being done to further Australia’s position in space thanks largely to Liberal governments who have worked tirelessly on rectifying this gross-oversight. I think it’s time Australians take a further interest in space development as this propels us into a new-age of technological advancement.

Will Australia be one of the first nations to Mars?

Let’s hope so!

Ben Jorgensen is the Internet Officer of the Sydney University Conservative Club

  1. Ginzburg, E.; Kuhn, J. W.; Schnee, J.; Yavitz, B. (1976). “Economic impact of large public programs The NASA experience”. NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS). Retrieved January 22, 2021.

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