Last updated May 17, 2018 at 12:27 pm
Australia’s new space agency will have some ambitious targets, including tripling our space industry in a decade.
From boosting Australia’s economy by billions of dollars, to creating tens of thousands of jobs, the first details of Australia’s new space agency have been released and they begin to paint a picture of our first national steps into space.
Focussing on energising and building the local industry and making Australian expertise more available to international collaboration, newly announced head of the agency Dr Megan Clark has set her sights on the ambitious target of tripling the national space industry in the next decade.
According to Dr Clark, tripling the industry would not only increase its economic value from around $4 billion to $12 billion, but also create up to 20,000 new jobs.
“You ask yourself — why are we doing that? And it’s really to improve the lives of all Australians and I think to inspire Australians about what Australia really can really do in the space industry,” Dr Clark told the ABC this morning.
“Of course space now is such a critical infrastructure underpinning just about all aspects of our economy.”
First steps into space
The space agency will officially begin operations on July 1 this year, headed by former CSIRO boss Dr Megan Clark who recently headed an expert working group which reviewed the Australian space industry for a report commissioned by the Federal Government.
However, the initial steps will all about building the foundations to allow the space industry to boom and reach the targets set.
This month’s federal budget allocated $41 million to establish the agency (slightly less than the predicted $50 million), to the dismay of some who expected a larger investment. However, this initial investment was never about launching equipment, but rather providing a base to “kickstart” the sector.
“Set the agency up, the operating costs, but also ‘seed funding’ to go overseas and actually enter into agreements,” Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash told the ABC.
“What Megan [Clark] will be doing within that first six-month period is providing us with the investment plan and that is what the Government will then look at.”
These foundations will include national coordination of Australia’s space sector, identifying opportunities to harness the expertise already in Australia, and develop the industry in a way that will allow it to be globally competitive. Additionally, the agency will work internationally building networks to allow Australian groups to access global supply chains.
Of the $41 million budget, $15million is set aside solely to foster collaboration with overseas space agencies and invest in international projects.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity to increase our share of the growing global space economy,” Senator Cash said.
These steps and responsibilities point to a business plan based around supporting a private space industry to build and develop, while setting a national agenda to foster collaboration and innovation around priorities that benefit Australian needs.
“Space technologies are not just about taking people to the moon, they open up opportunities for many industries, including communications, agriculture, mining, oil and gas.”
Related: Looking up for our future in space
While not ruling out a human spaceflight program – sending an Aussienaut to space – Dr Clark told the ABC it wasn’t a short-term priority.
“A bit early to say that, I’m sure the Minister’s going to have my feet to the fire on making sure that we’ve got that investment program up and running in the short term — but we’ll keep you posted,” she said.
Headquartered in Canberra, for now
Dr Clark also told the ABC that the agency would be headquartered in the ACT, at least for the immediate future.
“We need to engage internationally and also to coordinate nationally and part of that activity best to be centred in Canberra,” she said.
However, she didn’t closed the door on other states being home to agency hubs.
“One of the first jobs that the Minister has tasked me with is to visit the states and territories and really see how they can put their best foot forward to look at how we might have hubs of the agency in our states and territories.”
South Australia has long campaigned to play a major role in the space agency, leveraging its established defence and high-technology industry, including several commercial space companies. New state Premier Steven Marshall and Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas have announced they would work together to further the state’s cause.
Similarly, Western Australia have recently vocally pushed for the agency to have a major presence in that state, home to the ESA’s New Norcia site and the international Square Kilometre Array radioastronomy project. Senator Michaela Cash will reportedly formally announce the space agency today in Perth.
With potentially billions of dollars of economic impact, and thousands of jobs in the offering, competition between the states for a share of the spoils will be fierce.