By Donna Vanzetti

In the last 100 years Australia’s space history has spanned the nation.

First, a bit of Australian Space History

Australia has a long and exciting history in the space game. We were the third nation in the world to launch a satellite, launched from Woomera in South Australia; and in the 1960’s WA’s Carnarvon Space Tracking Station played a critical role in NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Skylab projects.

In 1976 Perth Observatory was one of two observatories that discovered rings around Uranus and in 1969 the famous Parkes Radio Dish in NSW beamed back vision of the Apollo 11 Moon landing to the world.

These are just a few of the stories where Australia played a vital role in the world’s history of space exploration.

With the building of the largest, most capable radio telescope ever constructed, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), in outback Western Australia, an Australian Space Agency in this country is well overdue.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison officially opened the Australian Space Agency based in Adelaide in February this year. The vision for the organisation is to grow jobs across the space industry sector and secure a larger share of the growing space economy, soon expected to be worth over $1 trillion.

Australian Square Kilometre Array
Square Kilometre Array - Western Australia. Credit Dragonfly Media & Australian SKA Office

What will the Australian Space Agency Actually Do?

The Australian Space Agency will primarily act as a facilitator and coordinator for the Australian space industry. This means they will help to encourage the growth of commercial space activities within Australia; identify opportunities within the sector; and engage international companies and organisations. Here are their six main roles and responsibilities:

  1. Providing national policy and strategic advice on the civil space sector
  2. Coordinating Australia’s domestic civil space sector activities
  3. Supporting the growth of Australia’s space industry and the use of space across the broader economy
  4. Leading international civil space engagement
  5. Administering space activities legislation and delivering on our international obligations
  6. Administering space activities legislation and delivering on our international obligations
  7. Inspiring the Australian community and the next generation of space entrepreneurs
More on these roles can be found in the Australian Space Charter
 
Australia has already played an important role in space technology across the globe, not only with the SKA but also in the fields of robotics, autonomous technologies, deep learning artificial intelligence platforms and planetary science through the Global Fireball Observatory and The Desert Fireball Network designed and set up by Prof. Phil Bland based right here in WA at Curtin University.
Scott Morrison and Megan Clark
Head of the Australian Space Agency, Megan Clark, and Prime Minister, Scott Morrison after signing a letter of intent to join NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach. Credit: NASA HQ Photo.

Pros

There are many positives about having an Australian Space Agency.

  • With a dedicated Australian Space Agency, our space technologies will advance and our scientists’ knowledge and expertise will grow. Australia is in an exciting time where we can build on our significant capabilities and leverage our unique location to include launch and returns of satellites and rockets and investigate space tourism opportunities.
  • International connections will flourish. Already the Australian Space Agency has signed international agreements to open pathways for Australian industry to tap into global markets with NASA, Germany, and the European Space Agency.
  • Opportunities that would otherwise not be accessible are opening up. We are now working with NASA on its plan to re-visit the Moon and then go onto Mars. This will position Australian research organisations and industry to work alongside other nations on a global project.
  • Break-through innovations will develop into revolutionary technologies for everyday life, ensuring continued scientific advancements for our world.
  • A new world of discovery will provide the setting to reach a target to triple the size of the space sector and create 20,000 jobs by 2030.
  • An Australian Space Agency gives our students an extra incentive to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. Space is intriguing and the Agency will provide new study and career pathways for the next generation of scientists.

Cons

  • The Space Agency’s budget will be $9.8 million annually and while that sounds like a lot initially, in government spending terms it’s a very small investment. To put this into perspective, here are some examples of government spending in other areas:
    • To put one NBN broadband satellite in orbit costs $500 million in government support.
    • John Forrest Secondary College (a high school in Morley, WA) was awarded $50 million from the WA government to replace their outdated facilities.
    • The McGowan government spent $22.1 billion on schools over a four year period.
    • NASA’s annual budget is $22.6 million USD annually (they spend $30 million annually on environmental compliance alone).
    • The ESA has an annual budget of $7 billion.
    • The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has an annual budget of $11 billion.
  • Don’t expect our space agency to operate like NASA or the ESA. While the Australian Space Agency will do some amazing things for our international relations and supporting the space industry in Australia, their role is more of a ‘coordinator or facilitator role’ – facilitating deals with other countries, or if another space agency or private company wanted to launch something from Australia, signing off on that. For the foreseeable future, the Australian Space Agency won’t be launching their own rockets or conducting their own research. Don’t be too disheartened though, their new role has the potential to bring amazing opportunities to Australia and see our space industry and related jobs expand to exciting heights!

ready for a career 'space change'?

In WA, you’re in the box seat! You can study astronomy and astrophysics with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at either Curtin University or the University of Western Australia.

We look forward to welcoming you to our friendly community of Stargazers & Astronomy Lovers where we thrive on making learning about the galaxy easy & fun!

Carol Redford - Founder Stargazers Club WA

Carol

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