Last updated May 9, 2018 at 4:30 pm
We’re going to space, people!
Next week’s Federal Budget is set to allocate $50 million in funding to establish Australia’s new space agency, according to reports.
Announced at the International Astronautical Congress in September last year, the space agency will put Australia in the “space club” of countries including New Zealand, Canada and the United States, and allow us to tap into the estimated $420 billion worldwide industry.
A senior Government source told the ABC that it expected the private sector would contribute significant funding for the agency.
The new agency will be headed for the first year by former CSIRO boss Megan Clark, who led an expert review into Australia’s space industry capabilities. That review, handed to the Federal Government earlier this year, was compiled by a panel of space industry experts to detail Australia’s strengths and weaknesses in the space industry and will play a central role in deciding the structure and focus of the space agency.
“There couldn’t have been a better person chosen for this role than Dr Clark,” said Professor Alan Duffy, astronomer and Australia’s Science Channel’s Lead Scientist.
“At CSIRO Dr Clark had to handle multiple stakeholders, detailed KPIs and forge a vision across the enormously dispersed entity. After chairing the year-long review she also has more knowledge of the Australian space sector than almost anyone else.”
As yet the details of the funding and agency itself are still unclear, however sources told us more details will be released with the agency’s Terms of Reference the week after the budget.
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“What’s clear is that it is an industry led effort,” said Professor Duffy.
“This space agency will be exploring commercial opportunities and has highlighted the role of enhancing GPS as a key driver of many areas of the Australian economy.”
It is expected the space agency will initially focus on developing technology to benefit Australian industry, including advanced GPS systems to assist mapping and agriculture, as well as transport systems. Environmental monitoring is also expected to a high priority project, to benefit climate change monitoring and the agriculture industry.
Future projects are expected to include fisheries and ocean monitoring.
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These projects, and the agency itself, will focus on collaboration between academia, industry and government, with the intention of building the homegrown space industry and better utilising the experience and expertise already in Australia.
Developing the industry is also seen as a way to build opportunities for young professionals in Australia, reducing the “brain drain” of talent leaving the country.
It is also expected to lead to significant economic impacts, with other countries seeing an approximate 5-10 times return on government investment on space projects.
Related: A young professional’s view of space
There are also suggestions Australia will look at leveraging its location to become a global player in satellite launches.
While Woomera is the site of Australia’s one and only local satellite launch, it’s unlikely that it will be the site of any future large launch facility.
Instead, the space agency would be more likely to look at sites in the far north of the country, to take advantage of a position closer to the equator, allowing cheaper launches.
There was no announcement of where the agency will be headquartered, however South Australia and the ACT have reportedly both made strong approaches.
*Actual budget allocation of $41 million announced Tuesday, 8 May 2018.