The Australian Space Agency says the future of its flagship “Moon to Mars” initiative is assured despite a component being axed under recent Federal Government funding cuts.
The space industry initiative returned to the public spotlight in March when National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy toured Australia.
To mark the event Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic announced $8 million in grants for two consortia bidding to design and build prototype moon mining rovers for the NASA-led project.
One of the contenders will be chosen to develop their prototype into a production model for a proposed stage two.
In May, Australia’s emerging space industry faced a series of deep budget cuts, but the Australian Space Agency (ASA) is reassuring the sector that the program is safe.
A spokesperson told Cosmos in an email that while the Global Supply Chain Facilitation program was discontinued, the Trailblazer Program, Demonstrator Program and Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grants remain.
“The 2023-24 Budget reaffirmed funding for the successful Moon to Mars initiative and its various programs,” the spokesperson says.
“The Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grants, which have been crucial to the growth of Australian space companies and helping them into international markets, is also continuing.”
The ASA says that a $250,000, three-month review of Australia’s contribution to NASA’s Moon to Mars Initiative by international consultancy Deloitte was a “standard evaluation exercise” that is done for “all government grant programs”.
The report, due at the end of this month, was “not assessing the initiative’s future.”
Space industry representatives who have spoken to Cosmos off the record for fear of losing contracts, say they are increasingly demoralised by Minister Husic’s apparent lack of interest in the emerging hi-tech sector and point to the fact that space is not listed as one of Minister Husic’s priorities under the Reconstruction Fund. Instead it has been instructed to direct its efforts towards renewable and low emission technologies, medical science, defence capability and “value-adding” the agricultural and resource industries.
They also point to the minister failing to attend keynote events, cancelling a Space Strategic Update report and only meeting with the touring NASA administrators in Canberra.
But the ASA says the Federal government “continues to support Australia’s space sector with investments across a range of portfolios, including $34.2m in core funding for the Australian Space Agency.”
It points out Australian space startups affected by the government’s shift in priorities can instead seek support from the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
“(The sector) can apply for funding through the key priority areas of enabling technologies, defence, and transport.
“Smaller companies in the sector can apply for growth funding and advice under the government’s new $392m Industry Growth Program, announced at the recent Budget.”
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