National Space Mission a huge budget win for the sector

James Riley
Editorial Director

The funding horizon on the freshly minted National Space Mission might stretch into the future, but Australian Space Agency chief Enrico Palermo is declaring a massive budget win for the civil space industry.

The federal government on Tuesday night dropped a tidy $1.2 billion on a National Space Mission for Earth Observation that is focused on improving sovereign capability in designing, building and launching sophisticated satellites in Australia.

While the funding window stretches over 15 years, Mr Palermo rates the national mission as the most exciting that has ever happened for the civil space industry in Australia.

Importantly, he says, the mission is structured as a procurement program where government is an “anchor customer” rather than as a program where the government simply hands out grants.

Enrico Palermo
Australian Space Agency chief Enrico Palermo

The federal budget handed down on Tuesday night included $1.16 billion over 15 years for the first phase of the national space mission, which will see Australia design, build and operate four new satellites.

Science and Technology Minister Melissa Price said the program was the most significant investment made in Australia’s civil space sector that would strengthen sovereign capability and create hundreds of high-tech jobs.

Speaking to InnovationAus inside budget lockup in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Palermo said the Australian Space Agency would lead the mission, with significant input from across government.

GeoScience Australia will operate the satellites, while the CSIRO will be a key partner in developing the data strategy for the earth observation satellites as well as building ground stations for their management.

The Department of Defence, the Industry department, the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Meteorology will also have significant roles in the national mission.

“This really highlights the strength of the convening and coordinating power that comes from having a national space agency,” Mr Palermo told InnovationAus.

“The [space] agency will lead the mission, but in many respects this is really a robust whole-of-government procurement initiative to really address some sovereign capability risks for the nation.

“This program will create in Australia the industry know-how for building more sophisticated satellites, and it will be done through a procurement program, not a grants program. This is really going to get us going to [push us] up into heavier class satellites in Australia and gets us on to a track that over time will help the industry to support Defence needs in the long term.

“It’s manufacturing, its high-tech jobs, it’s design, build, and operate. No kidding, this is the biggest thing to happen to our civil space industry.”

The 2022-23 budget also included:

  • $65.7 million over five years from the current financial year to “set the conditions for rocket launch from Australia” and to fast track the launch of space assets and research projects by Australian businesses and researchers
  • $12.1 million over five years (and $300,000 per year ongoing) to remove cost recovery requirements under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 and undertake a regulatory reform program to streamline interactions with industry
  • $9.5 million over two years to develop a Space Strategic Update to provide direction on future funding opportunities and align Australia’s space efforts
  • $3 million to extend the International Space Investment initiative and continue building relationships with international space agencies
  • $25.2 million to expand the International Space Investment initiative and provide funding for Australian businesses and research organisations to work on projects with the Indian Space Research Organisation and the broader Indian space sector.

Minister Price said that developing and launching the first four satellites would create the foundation of industry know-how for more complex space missions next decade.

The government estimates the project will create more than 500 jobs in the first four years of the build phase, with an anticipated supplier network of more than 100 companies from across Australia.

“The information we get from Earth observation satellites is central to our everyday life – from forecasting the weather and responding to natural disasters through to managing the environment and supporting our farmers,” Ms Price said.

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