Denham Sadler
September 25, 2017

New space agency is a huge win

New space agency is a huge win

Flavia Tata Nardini: The new space agency marks a huge shift in attitude toward the sector

Australian space industry leaders have hailed the Commonwealth’s “historic” creation of a national space agency, saying it will lead to thousands of local jobs and help coordinate the growing sector.

The federal government announced on Monday morning that it decided to act on a national space agency following “overwhelming” support from the local industry.

The Opposition also unveiled its own plan for an agency, and so regardless of who wins the next election, Australia will get a federal body coordinating the local sector.

The proposed agency has been welcomed by space-focused businesses and their leaders, who have long been saying that a space agency would bring together the fractured industry in Australia, creating local jobs and stemming the brain drain of talent moving overseas.

A government-commissioned expert reference group is currently investigating Australia’s space capability. It has now been tasked with developing a charter for the space agency.

Saber Astronautics founder Dr Jason Held, is a member of the group, says it will look to create a space agency that plays to Australia’s unique advantages.

“We’ll be laying out the program in a way which is right for Australia,” Dr Held told InnovationAus.com.

“We’re not looking at being the next NASA, this will be something which is specifically designed to build the industry in Australia.”

Dr Held said a national space agency would bring together and coordinate the space industry in Australia, which is growing but fractured, and create new local jobs.

“It’s the first time Australia has really come together and said this is something we’re going to do. I love the fact that it is bipartisan in agreement, that’s very unusual and very positive, and it means it’s going to happen,” he said.

“The space sector will be better coordinated, and will be working together rather than against each other. This will result in new jobs for sure, no questions.”

It’s not about sending people to space, but about Australia taking a slice of the $400 billion global space industry and creating local jobs, Delta-V founder Dr Tim Parsons said.

“The language is not that we’re going to fly some fun space missions, it’s to tap into a billion-dollar industry and create jobs. That’s the message we sent to them and we feel like we’ve been listened to,” Dr Parsons told InnovationAus.com.

Dr Dave Williams is the former chief executive of the UK Space Agency, and is now the executive director of Digital, National Facilities and Collections at CSIRO. He says the industry needs to be the driving force behind the design of the new space agency.

“Industry has to stand up and be prepared to take a risk and put things on the table,” Dr Williams told InnovationAus.com.

“This is an industry activity, and the government is promoting it as developing the Australia industry, so they need to be prepared to be involved, and not just feed off the cash of the government,” he said.

“This means that Australia at a high level is taking space seriously and has real realised that because Australia depends so much on space assets, it needs to be involved there. There’s still a lot of work to be done around building the technology because that requires industry to stand up and work on it.”

Fleet founder Flavia Tata Nardini has been leading the recent push for a national space agency and wrote an open letter to the government on the subject earlier this year.

Ms Tata Nardini is also a member of the government’s expert group, and said the announcement signals that the government is taking the sector seriously.

“The establishment of a national space agency is an important shift in attitude that shows the federal government is now starting to take the potential of space, and Australia’s burgeoning role in it, seriously,” she said.

“Having a recognised, government-backed space agency means that Australia’s footprint in the global space industry is going to get bigger and more formalised.”

“A space agency will ensure Australia has a cohesive space strategy that both supports our current space tech organisations but also fosters innovation and creates environments for Space 2.0 startups to have a greater chance of success. Today’s news means that our goal of becoming an innovation nation is now one step closer.”

Andrea Boyd, an Australia working in the International Space Station Flight Control in Europe, said the new space agency will create “several thousand” new local jobs.

“Space is a $420 billion a year industry that Australia relies on via satellites for our everyday life and now we can save millions and have secured access for future generations, plus a strong and growing industry for Aussies to work in,” Ms Boyd told InnovationAus.com.

The new space agency is also a massive coup for Australian startups focusing on the sector, including Fleet, Gilmour and Saber Astronautics, Ms Tata Nardini said.

“Increased support from the government and a national space agency will make it easier for local innovation and space businesses to stay local, ultimately fuelling our own national prosperity,” Ms Tata Nardini said.

“No longer will space startups have to rely 100 per cent on overseas and private parties for support,” she said.

The government’s announcement did not include details on how the agency would operate, or where it would be located. This is where the expert group and industry in general need to step up to the plate, according to Delta-V’s Tim Parsons.

“The minister’s statement does leave a lot of questions to be answered, which is great. What they’ve said is, ‘we’re going to do this and between now and March let’s figure out what it looks like’,” he said.

“I’ve just got plaudits for the fact they’ve decided to say we’re going to do it and look through the details.”

Part of its mission will be to promote this side of space to everyday Australians, he said.

“The average everyday Australian relies on space data, they rely on imagery, satellite communications and GPS, and the fact that Australia is now putting a foot into the ring and doing it on our own terms means that we will have access to these data streams, and provide access for the average Australian at rates more competitive for us,” Saber’s Dr Held said.

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