Improved European partnership opens opportunities for astronomy

Brandon How

The Australian astronomy sector can now compete for contracts in Europe following the signing of a strengthened partnership with the European Southern Observatory.

The Australia-ESO Strategic Partnership signed on Wednesday means Australian companies and astronomy institutions will be able to compete for ESO Technology Development Program tenders.

The ESO is the world’s leading ground-based astronomical observatory supported by 16 European partner countries in addition to Chile, where the observational facilities are located. Australia is not a full ESO partner.

European Southern Observatory

Technologies produced in collaboration with the ESO or procured through tenders include new types of laser sources, detectors, advanced optical coatings, and deformable mirrors.

Australia began its relationship with the ESO after signing a strategic partnership in July 2017 giving their scientists access to telescopes, technology, and research opportunities at the La Silla Paranal Observatory (LPO) in Chile.

The 10-year Strategic Partnership will cost the government an estimated $129.2 million in total, depending on the annual share of LPO operational costs incurred by Australia. At the end of this partnership Australia will have the chance to obtain full membership.

Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price said this amendment would help maintain Australia’s international reputation in the astronomy sector.

“We are backing new opportunities for local industry and institutions by helping them to tender for new technology development contracts. Our nation has a proud history of investing in our astronomy sector,” Minister Price said.

“Australia’s capabilities in advanced manufacturing and research will be strengthened through ESO’s Technology Development Program. Our focus is to deliver great commercial opportunities for local businesses – opportunities that will also have the potential to extend beyond the astronomy sector.

“This new facet of our Strategic Partnership with ESO will enable our highly-respected Australian institutions and businesses to contribute to global innovation and develop new technology.”

ESO director general Professor Xavier Barcons welcomed the opportunity to strengthen ties between the Observatory and Australia.

“By welcoming the country to ESO’s Technology Development Programme, we open new opportunities for Australia’s research institutions and high-tech industries to develop exciting technologies together with ESO,” Professor Barcons said.

“I look forward to furthering the engagement between Australia and ESO through this agreement.”

The ongoing relationship with ESO is part of the 2016-2025 decadal plan for Australian astronomy, in which the observatory was identified as “an excellent option for satisfying Australia’s optical/IR capability.” It was also cited as an opportunity for Australian instrument makers to maintain their edge and industry to be involved in large construction projects.

In the 2017-18 federal budget, the astronomy sector received $26.1 million for the research and development to enable the ESO partnership.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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