Govt urged to develop national space strategy amid ‘new crisis’


Justin Hendry
Administrator

A single national space strategy that positions northern Australia as a global launch hub should be developed as a matter of urgency to address “worrying headwinds” facing the sector in the wake of more than $1 billion in budget cuts.

An Australian Strategic Policy Institute report, to be released on Thursday, urges the Albanese government to revive work on a strategy to unify commercial, civil and defence aspects of space policy.

“The absence of a national space policy, or a national space strategy, is a key weakness in the Australian space sector,” the report, produced by space policy expert Dr Malcolm Davis and part funded by the Northern Territory government, will say.

While the Australian Space Agency released a 10-year plan for the civil sector in 2019, and a separate Defence Space Strategy was launched last year, there has been no movement on the Space Strategic Update promised by the former Coalition government more than two years ago.

The strategy – which was to provide a single, unified vision for the sector through to the 2040 – has been on pause since the arrival of the Albanese government, representing a “gap in Australia’s future opportunities in space”, according to the report.

Image: Shutterstock.com/BiniClick

The government has also created a “new crisis” for the commercial space sector and the Australian Space Agency by axing the $1.2 billion National Space Mission for Earth Observation program in June, as well as three other space projects in the federal Budget.

As reported by InnovationAus.com, the cuts have already had flow-on effects, with a $71 million satellite manufacturing hub planned for the outskirts of Canberra scrapped by the consortium leading the project earlier this month.

“Those cuts are a serious setback for Australia’s space sector and suggest that the current government is yet to understand the importance of sustaining investment to ensure that Australia remains a credible player in space,” the report will say.

Without a national strategy, which the report says should be completed in the current term of government, the “direction and focus” of the commercial space sector is at risk, while “state-versus-state competition” could re-emerge, resulting in an oversaturated market and job losses.

“Australia needs to commit in a policy, investment, and strategic planning sense to how it pursues those capabilities. At present, much is being done in and by industry. Yet government policy, planning and investment aren’t playing the role here that they do in other developed economies.”

The report also discusses the need to make “sovereign launch the central focus” of Australian space activities and reinforce the potential opportunities that Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory offer.

Given its proximity to the Earth’s equator, northern Australia’s has a natural advantage for launch sites, with rockets able to benefit from a higher velocity, reducing the cost per kilogram of payload to orbit.

“Compared to traditional launch sites overseas, such as Cape Canaveral in Florida at 28 degrees north latitude, or Japan’s Tanegashima launch site at 30 degrees north, Australia is a ‘lucky country’ when it comes to space launch,” the report will say.

“Among currently active launch sites near the equator, only Kourou in French Guiana, the European Space Agency’s principal launch site at only 5 degrees north of the equator, is closer to the equator.”

Two sites in Queensland and the Northern Territory that are “advanced in development” are the Arnhem Space Centre, operated by Equatorial Launch Australia, and the Abbot Point launch site that will be used by Gilmour Space for the launch of its Eris 1 launch vehicle later this year.

The report said the distance to the equator “represents a significant advantage that can’t be ignored, and it must drive government to facilitate the development of northern Australia as a key global launch hub, or risk being left behind in a rapidly expanding global space economy”.

For Defence in particular, it would be “sensible … to invest in the growth of a northern space launch capability in the Northern Territory, in Queensland, and in Western Australia”, the report recommended, giving it assured access to space not possible with foreign launch providers.

“The best path forward is for government to fully support the development of Australia’s commercial space sector, including and with specific attention to the establishment of an Australian sovereign space-launch capability,” the report will say.

“Indifference or hesitancy in funding the commercial space sector would be a mistake made at a crucial point when Australia’s space sector has developed momentum to move forward and would undermine confidence in the sector’s future ability to grow and generate revenue and jobs.

“It would be very much an own goal by government if future federal budgets continue to see space as not being ‘aligned with government priorities’ or to mistakenly characterise space initiatives as ‘not delivering value for money for the taxpayer’.

“The rapid growth of the commercial space sector at the global level is opening up a huge market for Australian participation that will propel the expansion of Australia’s space sector. Australia has a fundamental choice. We can be an active participant in this global growth area, or we can choose to be a passive bystander looking on from the sidelines.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. LJPatton 10 months ago

    Please explain why Australia needs a Space industry. How many of the world’s 195 countries have one? Asking for all the people struggling financially.

Leave a Comment