Last updated October 17, 2017 at 4:20 pm
For Australians, the best news of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) came before it even opened: after 70 years of varying levels of space involvement, we are finally getting our very own space agency.
Simon Birmingham announced the Australian Space Agency again during the IAC opening ceremony, which opened with a stunning welcome to country performance and ended—fittingly—with the Adelaide Youth Orchestra playing Holst’s Jupiter and Under the Milky Way by The Church.
Being of a strategic mind, however, it (my mind) is already racing with agency possibilities. What’s our agency going to look like? What’s our point of difference? Will our agency act nationally only or will it be part of global collaborations (ANZAC Space Agency, anyone?)? Will it primarily act as funding support for our local space startups or play an old NASA-like role of launching full mission programs? Similarly, will the focus be science or will it be commercial? Can it be both?
Some young professionals were already discussing some of these questions at the International Astronautical Federation’s Project/Programme Management Committee’s (IPMC) workshop yesterday. Three international teams of young people had been working for the past couple of months on topics to present at this workshop, all of which touched in some way on the role of startups and commercialisation versus the traditional way of government agencies (see: NASA and ESA). In an exciting twist, our workshop was hijacked in the afternoon by an older Russian lady who, under the ruse of asking Mark Mulqueen from Boeing a question, gave an impassioned (and brief) anti-commercialisation speech. She quoted Yuri Gagarin’s dedication of his 1961 flight to society and science and kindly suggested three steps of how to do space right: step one, put up a satellite; step two, focus on exploring new knowledge; step three, send a woman to space. Right on, lady.
Phillipe Willekens from ESA also gave a boisterous (but scheduled) talk. He spoke on the idea of everyone working together towards a joint, global space vision, calling space a place with a peaceful purpose. Certainly, the comradery and ease of communication between our IPMC teams lent itself happily to this idea. Having said that, we were also lucky enough yesterday morning to have been addressed by Fatma Al Sumaiti from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in the UAE. Their strategy has been to first collaborate with another country (South Korea in their case) to develop space capability and then to fully domesticate that capability. With an average workforce age of 27 and an aim to have an established Mars colony by 2117, the Emiratis seem to be embodying the spirit and drive of a startup while remaining a government program.
So how are we going to do it in Australia? I’m now off to this afternoon’s Heads of Agencies plenary to get some more ideas. Stay tuned.
Follow all the IAC 2017 coverage, including news and articles in the lead up to this astronautical event, and daily live videos during the Congress at australiascience.tv/iac-2017.