South Australia has won the competitive, six-month race between the states to host Australia’s space agency, with the headquarters to be based in Adelaide from next year.
It was revealed on Twitter on Tuesday night that the federal government had selected South Australia to host the agency, which is to be housed in the newly-developed innovation precinct Lot Fourteen, at the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site.
The headquarters is set to open its doors in Adelaide by mid-next year with 20 full-time employees.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the announcement Wednesday morning before a COAG meeting in Adelaide, saying it would “open doors for local businesses and Australian access to the $US345 billion global space industry”.
South Australia’s win had been years in the making, the founder of Adelaide-based tech firm Fleet Space Technologies Flavia Tata Nardini said.
“South Australia started working towards this before everyone else. Two or three years ago they put a lot of things in place, and in the past six months the premier, the entire startup community and SMEs, everyone was working really, really hard towards this,” Ms Tata Nardini told InnovationAus.com.
“What we heard from the space agency is that they wanted to be where the action is, and the action is here.”
The federal government allocated $26 million over four years for the establishment of the agency in this year’s federal budget, but did not decide on a permanent location for its base.
Instead, the agency’s inaugural boss Dr Megan Clark was tasked with deciding where the headquarters should be housed by the end of the year.
Every state threw its hat into the ring, kicking off intense lobbying from premiers around the country. Arguments centred on whether the agency should be based in a major city surrounded by companies and public servants like Sydney and Melbourne, in the nation’s capital, or in a state with access to potential launch sites like Western Australia.
South Australia won with its best-of-both-worlds bid, with a host of local space companies as well as potential for launch sites.
Being in close proximity to the agency’s headquarters would be hugely beneficial for local space startups, Ms Tata Nardini said.
“Being closer to the decision-makers is going to accelerate things. It’s the beginning of something very big. It doesn’t cut the other states out of the conversation at all, but Lot Fourteen is going to become a centre that is going to accelerate things. This is great for us and is giving us a lot of credibility internationally,” she said.
While there are now concerns that Adelaide-based space companies would have an “unfair advantage” over peers around Australia, South Australia was the only real choice, Saber Astronautics chief executive Jason Held said.
“Setting up the headquarters in Adelaide is a direct result of the South Australian government giving real commitment to the space industry. Other states were out-bid, not just in terms of investment but also direct support, state leadership and heavy lobbying,” Dr Held told InnovationAus.com.
“Adelaide-based companies will have an unfair advantage compared to other cities, so that needs careful management if ASA is to achieve its stated vision of growing space nation-wide,” he said.
“But I can’t blame ASA’s leadership for making the call, it was time to plant the flag and this was the only serious bid on the table.”
There had also been calls from the local space sector for a number of industry nodes to be established in major cities to ensure cooperation around the country.
Dr Clark confirmed that the federal government had tasked the agency with continuing to engage with the other states and territories to “understand investment opportunities”.
“Our success depends on solid national and international engagement and our vision will see us reach across all states and territories and build global partnerships that open the door for our space researchers and industries,” Dr Clark said.
“This new base in Adelaide provides an exciting location for the Agency to deliver on our mandate to transform and grow the Australian space industry to inspire and improve the lives of all Australians – underpinned by strong national and international engagement.”
Labor’s policy was to have the headquarters in Canberra, with state-based nodes around the country, and the Opposition has previously raised concerns with the competition sparked by the hunt for the headquarters.
With its first major decision locked in, it’s now time for the agency and local companies to get down to business, Ms Tata Nardini said.
“It’s time to make things happen now, no matter where they are. We’re very happy that next year we start seriously working,” she said.
“South Australia has the budget and the people to support the space agency, but when I was travelling all around Australia we saw every state with fantastic capabilities. We’re all in this together, no matter where we’re sitting.”