Australia will finally get a national space agency to coordinate local efforts in the sector and gain a chunk of the $400 billion global industry, the federal government has announced.
The government revealed its plan on Monday morning, just hours after the Opposition unveiled its own plans to create a national space agency to coordinate the country’s efforts in the industry.
The acting Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Michaelia Cash made the announcement in lieu of Arthur Sinodinos, who is on extended sick leave. She said the agency would “ensure Australia has a long-term plan to grow its domestic space industry”.
“The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement. The global space industry is growing rapidly and it’s crucial that Australia is part of this growth,” Senator Cash said.
“A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry,” she said.
Australia is one of only two OECD countries that does not have its own space agency. There had been growing calls this year for Australia to set an agency, with industry leaders saying it would bring the burgeoning but fractured sector together, create local jobs, and stem the brain drain of local talent moving overseas.
The global space industry is estimated to be worth more than $400 billion. Australia spends about $4 billion on space activities annually, but most of this is going to overseas companies.
In July, the government commissioned an expert committee, chaired by former CSIRO boss Megan Clark, to investigate Australia’s space industry capabilities, with the possibility of a space agency a main element of its investigation.
This review was slammed as “redundant” by industry leaders, with several previous committees and reports advocating for a national space agency.
The new committee has already received nearly 200 submissions and consulted with more than 400 people, and the government said these were “overwhelmingly” in favour of establishing a space agency.
This expert reference group will now be tasked with developing the charter for the national space agency, which will be included with the wider strategy to be published next March.
No further details of the operations or location of the space agency have been released.
South Australian senator Simon Birmingham officially announced the government’s plans at the International Astronautical Congress 2017, which is taking place in Adelaide this week.
“While there is more work to be done in this review, from the extensive consultation to date, one part is overwhelmingly clear: the case for establishing an Australian space agency is compelling,” Senator Birmingham told the conference.
InnovationAus.com understands Senator Cash had been planning to make the space agency announcement during her keynote speech at the conference on Tuesday – but the announcement was brought forward after the Opposition’s revealed its own plan.
Labor announced on Monday morning that it would also create an Australian Space Science and Industry Agency if it wins the next election. The agency would “ensure that Australia does not miss out on the opportunities provided by the rapidly growing global space industry”, shadow innovation minister Kim Carr said.
“Australia depends on space more than any other country in the world. Australia has the science, technology, infrastructure and skills to punch significantly above our weight in the global space industry,” Senator Carr said.
“It is in Australia’s national interest to build our own capabilities in these areas, not only to meet current and future needs, but also to mitigate the risk of these services becoming unavailable,” he said.
The Opposition provided far more detail in its announcement, outlining the first phase of its Australian Space Science and Industry Plan.
Along with the space agency, this would also involve the establishment of a Space Industry Innovation Council to act as an advisory board to the agency and a Space Industry Supplier Advocate, which would work to open up opportunities for local companies operating in the sector.
Labor said a national space agency would double the size of Australia’s space industry within five years and create 10,000 new jobs.
Senator Carr pointed to the everyday applications of space technologies, including supermarkets using satellite navigation to guide their fleet, ATMs, mobile phones and adapting to climate change.
“The global space economy is worth $420 billion, yet Australia’s share of this is only 0.8 percent. We can and must do better,” Senator Carr said.
The Opposition said it would spend $13 million across two years to establish the space agency.
State and territories around the country are already vying to play a major role in the new national space agency, with South Australia, the ACT, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all expressing an interest.
The South Australia and ACT governments recently signed a memorandum of understanding on the matter, teaming up on a proposal for a space agency to be headquartered in Canberra but with an operational node in Adelaide.
And the SA government last week announced the creation of a South Australian Space Industry Centre, which would position the state to play a big role in the national body.
The centre would be “dedicated to growing the local space economy and creating future high-tech jobs”, SA Premier Jay Weatherill said.
“South Australia has always been a national leader in space innovation. We are continuing this leadership through opening the South Australia Space Industry Centre – the only centre of its kind in Australia – as we continue calls for the federal government to establish a national space agency,” Mr Weatherill said.
Speaking at the space congress in Adelaide on Monday morning, Senator Birmingham said the state will play a “central” role in the national space agency.
“I am confident that with our unique geography, South Australia will naturally be at the forefront of an increased Australian presence in space industries,” he said.
The International Astronautical Conference is the world’s largest space conference, and is taking place in Adelaide across this week.
About 3,500 delegates are expected at the conference, including the heads of all major space agencies and SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk.
The South Australian government previously labelled the country’s lack of a space agency, while hosting such a prominent conference, as “embarrassing”.