Australian Space Park fails to launch

The future of a $66 million Australian Space Park proposed for Adelaide Airport is in doubt with businesses withdrawing from the project after the State Labor Government pulled funding for the shared manufacturing facility.

The Australian Space Park was first announced in December 2021 amid claims it would secure South Australia’s status as the nation’s leading satellite manufacturer. A $20 million shared assembly and integration plant had been promoted by the former State Marshall Government as a means of helping businesses build the technology demonstrators they needed to gain space accreditation.

Space manufacturers, including Fleet Space Technologies, ATSpace and Q-CTRL, were to build their facilities around this common hub. In August, international Airbus announced its interest in establishing operations there. 

The State Government welcomed an overseas trade delegation in March and spruiked the Space Park. as: “the first dedicated space manufacturing hub in Australia.”

But businesses that had expressed interest in participating in a consortium contributing $26 million towards the $66 million project were told on June 15 that the SA Government had changed its plans.

It would now focus on the Lot Fourteen space precinct on North Terrace in central Adelaide and that money to “support space manufacturing capability” won’t be available before late 2024.

Shadow Minister for Defence and Space Industries, Stephen Patterson, confirmed that two companies have since “backed out” of the proposed manufacturing park.

“Despite previously showing support for the initiative, industry was blindsided by Labor’s sudden change of plans,” Patterson told Cosmos today.

“This is a cruel blow to the space industry in South Australia, which we fear will now be left with a much smaller $20 million common user facility instead of the ground-breaking $66 million Australian Space Park.”

Q-CTRL declined to comment. But on June 27, it announced it had changed its Adelaide plans and would now build its commercial quantum facility in Sydney’s Tech Central Precinct.

The South Australian Space Industry Centre today indicated the $20 million had been “repurposed”, with a new 12-month consultation process aimed at making an alternative facility at Lot Fourteen “more responsive to the contemporary requirements”.

“This new project will provide space companies with open access to manufacturing facilities essential to the sector’s future growth,” it said in response to Cosmos queries.

“The South Australian Government will continue to work with Fleet Space and Alauda to determine their requirements for additional manufacturing facilities in the state.”

But the news comes as doubts grow around the status of a further $20 million awarded by the previous Federal Coalition Government under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative grants scheme in March last year. This was to help Fleet Space establish its satellite production line at the Adelaide Airport Space Hub.

All seven of the MMI grants awarded at the time appear to remain unresolved.

“Peter Malinauskas and Susan Close’s decision to withdraw state funding for the Australian Space Park is a green light to their Federal colleagues to cut the Commonwealth commitment to the South Australian space industry,” Patterson said.

The South Australian Space Industry Centre told Cosmos that the State Government’s spending on the space sector had “increased in the 2023-2024 Budget”.

But confusion surrounding the space park’s future is another blow to the confidence of Australia’s nascent space industry. In May cuts targeted the Australian Space Agency’s flagship Moon to Mars project. The future of the entire program remains in doubt, with a review by international consultancy Deloitte due at the end of the month.

The Space Support Program and the Australian Spaceports Program also lost federal funding. And the $1.2 billion National Space Mission for Earth Observation – designed to monitor national fires and floods – was cancelled.

A $300 million investment in the Lot Fourteen precinct and associated space facilities under the 2018-2019 State Budget helped secure the headquarters for the Australian Space Agency.

More than 100 space-related businesses are now operating in SA, ranging from satellite and rocket developers to space health and software startups.

SA has been facing increasing competition from other states in recent years as the potential of such hi-tech industries became apparent. 

The recent Andy Thomas Space Foundation’s 15th Australian Space Forum announced it would conduct the bi-annual event outside of Adelaide for the first time in its history. The 16th event will instead be held in Sydney.

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