Industry wants lift in space investment to keep pace with neighbours

Australian space investment needs a rocket to meet the lofty aspirations laid out with the formation of the Australian Space Agency in 2018, but  industry leaders say the path is still open for the nation to become a significant international player.

Speaking before the Space + Spacial Industry Growth Roadmap presentation at the Australian Space Agency’s Discovery Centre in Adelaide today, the working group’s acting Chairman, Mr Glenn Cockerton, said the economic significance and strategic opportunity could not be overstated.

“Australia could keep fumbling on, and we will still have a future in space and spatial,” Mr Cockerton told Cosmos Science  this morning.

“And that’s okay, you know. There’ll be growth. But what we’re saying is that through greater policy focus and a more explicit national plan, our industries are capable of so much more.”

The roadmap highlights the “complete absence” of an organisational body focussed on translating the space agency’s success into economic activity. And it blames a “failure of industry and policy” for the 5.5 per cent per annum growth in geospatial revenue – about half the international rate – valued at $2.9 billion last year. 

It’s about introducing new services – such as multispectral low-orbit imaging. And it’s about exploiting that information to value-add existing industries, such as agriculture, mining, emergency management, water security, transport and logistics.

Mr Cockerton says these data capabilities are already essential services underpinning much of the Australian economy. The point, he adds, is to recognise its ability to raise productivity. 

Such geospatial services and technologies are currently recording 13 per cent revenue growth globally. In the Asia Pacific region, that figure is 18 per cent.

Also in Cosmos: space investment in earth observation gets huge boost

“The rest of the world is investing and expanding heavily,” says Mr Cockerton. “So Australia needs to recognise that, even to maintain its position, it has to invest more and smarter. And that requires government coordination at multiple levels, predominately Federal, but also between the states because a lot of activity is generated there. Without that coordination, we will miss a very significant opportunity.”

The roadmap is the result of two years of industry-led consultation. 

It calls for a renewed emphasis on national space missions and prioritising home-grown industry for defence and national space infrastructure.

It also points to focused investment in spatial digital twinning, upgraded space-based positioning and navigation systems, and improved orbital mapping services.

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palermo, received the report, agreeing Australia’s federal and state governments needed to adopt a decadal long-view perspective towards space.

“As a country we’ve had to relearn many times that space is important,” he told the gathered industry and parliamentary representatives. “I think we’re in a new phase, where space is now underpinning so many sectors, so many activities in our economy, and that’s more broadly understood.”

The value of geospatial data is often not recognised, he added.

Mr Palermo says Geoscience Australia’s SouthPAN satellite is a $1.5 billion investment with an estimated $6 billion economic return. And Australia’s earth observation industry has a direct $280 million impact, but this flows through to some $4 billion in economic activity.

“If we want autonomous cars, if we want eVTOLs, if we want smart cities – they’re all interconnected,” he said. “Many of the things you see in this roadmap are what makes this all possible on a continental and global scale. Whether it’s earth observation, positional and navigational data or satellite communications, they provide the critical and foundational services for our nation and regional partners.”

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