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Scientists push for Australian space agency


Australia needs its own space agency, say scientists in a paper aimed at government. Anthea Batsakis reports.


Australia needs its own space agency, researchers say.
Tim Bird/Getty Images

Australian space researchers are urgently calling on the federal government to establish a domestic space agency.

They make their arguments clear in a white paper prepared by the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) and released this week.

In the document, titled Advancing Australia in Space, the SIAA says a space agency would not only boost economic and employment growth, but also strengthen Australia’s national security and inspire young STEM scientists.

Australia is one of only two OECD nations that doesn’t have a space agency. It relies heavily on international partnerships, particularly with the US, Europe and Japan, to buy the satellite data used by individuals and businesses every day, including for weather forecasting, mining, and managing natural disasters, among others.

White paper co-author Mark Ramsey from American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics says Australia needs to move away from being a passive consumer of satellite data.

“We believe Australia is missing out and punching under its weight in the sector,” he says. Australia’s current space industry amounts to less than 1% of the global space economy, providing annual revenues of three to four billion dollars.

But the SIAA believes this can double in the next five years, provided the government supports a new agency. And setting out a longer-term goal, the researchers write that in 20 years Australia can contribute 4% of the global space economy.

Co-author Alice Gorman from Flinders University says in the current geopolitical climate, “access to space is going to be divided in the haves and have nots, and Australia needs to be on the side of the haves.”

In the past five years, there has been an enormous shift in the balance between government and commercial space programs, such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, as well as growth in smaller satellites.

Gorman says this new era of industry and research means the space treaties the world currently abides by are no longer sufficient.

“There’s a lot of discussion on what’s needed in international regulation,” she says. “We’re in a period of uncertainty: if Australia isn’t participating, we might see decisions being made about who gets to access space that doesn’t serve our best interest.”

But will the white paper be successful? The authors note that politically the time is right to promote a local space agency, and say Australian MPs are starting to understand the critical importance of space services.

The paper will be presented to the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos,

The researchers believe that the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide in September this year, hosting major international players of the space industry, will be the catalyst for the development of the new agency.

“What we want to see are South Australia’s license plates changed from the festival state to the space state,” Gorman says.

Anthea Batsakis is a freelance journalist in Melbourne, Australia.
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