High ranking officials from America’s space program have called for deeper ties with Australia, including Australian astronauts flying on United States’ missions, during a rare visit this week that coincides with the next step in Australia’s Moon to Mars program.
To mark the visit, two Australian space consortiums were selected as the industry partners for Australia’s first ever Moon mission on Monday.
The Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE) consortium and the EPE and Lunar Outpost Oceania consortium were selected and will each receive $4 million in government grants to design early-stage prototypes of a semi-autonomous Rover.
Australia is supplying the Rover, which will collect lunar soil from the Moon and deliver it to a NASA payload, to the American-led Moon to Mars mission.
The announcement coincides with a visit by Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy – the space agency’s first official visit in nearly a decade.
According to industry sources, Mr Nelson told a closed Australian space industry event in Adelaide on Monday that he wants Australian astronauts flying on US missions, a move he said is important for US foreign policy.
Industry minister Ed Husic said the visit is evidence of the close co-operation between Australia and the United States. He will meet with Senator Nelson later this week to discuss continuing the nations’ 65-year-old space partnership ahead of the NASA Administrator’s address to the National Press Club on Thursday.
Mr Husic also announced that the AROSE consortium and the EPE and Lunar Outpost Oceania consortium will each receive $4 million from the federal government’s $150 million grant program, which was announced in 2019 but has been slow to get money out the door.
The AROSE consortium includes global and local space techs, Australian universities, and mining giants, as well as the Western Australian government.
The EPE and Lunar Outpost Oceania consortium is a joint initiative of the Queensland-based robotics and systems integration company EPE and the Colorado based Lunar Outpost. The US company’s wholly owned subsidiary Lunar Outpost Oceania began searching for Australian based engineers and salespeople over the weekend.
The EPE and Lunar Outpost Oceania consortium also includes partners from the defence, mining and robotics sectors as well as several Australian universities.
“Drawing on Australia’s world leading remote operations, the rover will collect lunar soil known as regolith from the Moon and deliver it to a NASA payload, which will attempt to extract oxygen from the sample,” Mr Husic said in a statement.
The payload carrying the Rover to the Moon is aiming to launch by 2026. It is part of the NASA Moon to Mars mission, which is attempting to pioneer a sustainable human presence on the Moon and support future missions to Mars.
“It is great that, with this announcement, Administrator Nelson will get to witness first-hand the extensive knowledge and capability in our space sector, as well as robotics and automation more broadly,” Mr Husic said.
“From those selected to be part of the Trailblazer program, to other industry success stories and our impressive universities and research organisations, Australia has much to be proud of.
The visiting Senator Nelson said in the statement the cooperation would uncover more discoveries.
“In this new era of space exploration, every advancement is not an achievement for one country – but for all of humanity.”
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