Karen Andrews on the moon mission

James Riley
Editorial Director

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed an additional $150 million over five years to underwrite Australia’s participation in the United States led public-private Moon to Mars space exploration program.

Mr Morrison also unveiled Australia’s commitment to join NASA’s ambitious Artemis lunar program, which aims to land astronauts – including the first woman – on the moon by 2024.

The Moon to Mars program is a massive industry development effort, and the $150 million in funding via the Australian Space Agency will support local businesses and researchers in building technology and products to support the programs.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews said the funding, which effectively triples the space agency budget, was ultimately aimed at building Australia capability and to position Australian businesses as potential partners within global space sector supply chains.

The relationship with NASA and the new funding was part of the government plan to triple the size of Australia’s space sector to $12 billion and to create 20,000 new jobs by 2030.

“What this deal does is to deliver opportunities for Australian businesses to be a part of NASA’s supply chain,” Mrs Andrews told InnovationAus.com on Sunday.

“The good news is that Australia is going to be an active partner in NASA’s Moon to Mars project, and for Australian businesses it means they will have opportunities to engage directly with NASA and to be a part of that program by developing [new] technology, as well as expanding on the technology that we already have,” she said.

“What the Australian Space Agency is going to do immediately is start work with NASA to identify [the best areas] for us to support the mission.”

Mrs Andrews said examples, where Australia could offer world class expertise, might be in remote management systems, such as the technology developed for the Pilbara where core parts of mining operations are performed via telemetry systems 1,600 kilometres away in Perth.

Autonomous robotics and the AI systems behind it were also a core research focus at the CSIRO’s Data61 unit, which could also be of significant interest to the various Moon to Mars initiatives.

The Australian Space Agency chief Megan Clark on Saturday signed a Statement of Intent with NASA on expanding cooperation (a signing ceremony that included the Prime Minister and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.)

The Prime Minister said the new agreement builds on “a unique history” of space cooperation between the US and Australia dating to the Apollo era.

“We’ve partnered with the US in almost all of their missions to space for the last 60 years and this investment paves the way for the next 60,” Mr Morrison said. “The growing amount of space sector work and innovation will also inspire the next generation to see the future of a career in these fields for the long term.”

With the statement of intent signed with NASA now in place, Mrs Andrews said the focus would be on identifying the most promising opportunities for Australian researchers and business, and then designing industry programs that support them.

“At this stage our interest is in developing a strategy with NASA to make sure that Australia is at the front and centre of the Moon to Mars mission,” she told InnovationAus.com.

“We have only had the Australian Space Agency in place for a little over 12 months now. So the commitment and the amount of ground that we have been able to cover in that 12 months is in itself extraordinary.”

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