Australia and the United States have signed off on a long-awaited space technology sharing agreement, giving American space companies the green light to conduct launches from Australian spaceports.
The Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) was signed in Washington on Thursday morning (AEDT), six months after an in-principal agreement was struck by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and US President Joe Biden.
The agreement opens the door to new space-related commercial opportunities between the two nations by providing a new legal and technical framework for the handling of sensitive technology during US space launches from Australia.
The US already holds similar agreements with other nations including the United Kingdom and New Zealand, in part to meet its international non-proliferation commitments.
The details of the agreement are yet to be revealed by the governments but are seen as critical to ensuring the US technology helps develop the local sector, rather than it being simply a US launchpad.
The former Coalition government announced in 2021 that it had entered preliminary negotiations on a TSA, saying it would look for flexibility in the agreement to allow the local industry to continue its strong growth.
Australia is also continuing to negotiate a bilateral space framework agreement with the US, according to a joint statement that established innovation as the fourth pillar of the Australia-US alliance.
At the signing with Australia’s Ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd and US State Department assistant secretary Eliot Kang on Thursday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the agreement would help US companies to access launch sites that are closer to the Equator.
“In Australia, American companies will have access to more high-quality launch sites so that they can increase the frequency of their operations,” he said, adding that “they’ll be closer to the Equator, where the Earth spins the fastest, so their rockets get an extra boost and use less fuel”.
“By opening new doors for the private sector, we’ll grow investment between our countries and help create good paying jobs in both countries.
“It will help provide more opportunities for American and Australian firms to continue innovating and innovating together, whether they’re using satellites to make GPS navigation more accurate or developing spacecrafts to study the universe.”
The Space Industry Association of Australia said the signing of the agreement “removes the last barrier preventing US space technology being launched from Australia”.
“The Australian space industry is already open for business and are ready to sign up US customers to launch from and return to Australian soil. We hear regularly from both the US government and industry of their demand for this capability in Australia,” SIAA executive chairman Jeremy Hallett said.
“This agreement removes the blockage stopping this demand being met by Australian space industry and we look forward to the new business opportunities that will emerge for the industry.”
Equatorial Launch Australia, which operates the Arnhem Space Centre launch facility om the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory, and Southern Launch welcomed the signing of the agreement between the two nations.
Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the TSA would allow its customer, Varda, to both return their in-space manufacturing capsules and relaunch them on a US rocket from South Australia.
“This circular process unlocks a new pharmaceutical industry potential in Australia that will benefit all humankind, and give our nation a robust space launch and returns capability,” he said in a statement with the SIAA.
In a statement before the official signing, ELA chairman and group chief executive Michael Jones said the agreement would open the “way for collaboration and contractual opportunities with US space companies to launch with ELA from the Arnhem Space Centre”.
“We have been engaged with and negating with US rocket manufacturers for several years now and we have all been awaiting the TSA completion. Today’s events are great news for us and clears the way for us to finalise our contracts with US launchers.”
With Joseph Brookes
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