Australian NASA astronaut Andy Thomas lobbied for a national space agency © NASA
Australian NASA astronaut Andy Thomas lobbied for a national space agency © NASA

Procurement will help grow space industry

2 October 2017

Australia has announced it will create its own space agency in an attempt to cash on the increasingly lucrative space industry, worth an estimated $420bn globally.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed the agency would be “small” but would not specify how much money would be allocated for the project. The government later said the costing for the agency would be included in the 2018 federal budget.

Michaelia Cash, acting minister of industry, innovation and science, said that Australia would not be getting another NASA but an agency “right for our nation, right for our industry”. 

“It will provide the vehicle for Australia to have a long-term strategic plan for space—a plan that supports the innovative application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry, including through defence space procurement,” she said.  

“But this is not just about an agency for agency’s sake—that is why the review process is so important. We now need to put in the hard work to determine what form of agency and what mandate is best suited to support our growing industry.” 

Australia is one of the only developed countries in the world without a dedicated space agency. 

The country’s space industry is estimated to be worth more than $4bn per year and current employs around 11,500 workers, according to government figures.

Australian private companies and universities have participated in international space research for decades and many of the institutions have been pushing for a national space agency.

The announcement comes after much lobbying from figures in the domestic space tech industry, including Australian NASA astronaut Andy Thomas, which led to a government review into the viability of setting up a space agency in July.

Chaired by Megan Clark, former Commowealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation chief executive, the review panel said its consultation had “overwhelmingly shown the need” for a national bureau, based on more than 200 written submissions.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, told the ABC that the space agency would pay for itself in the long term as newly discovered technologies could be patented and sold to the rest of the world.

“We can do big things—we can go mine asteroids, we can put humans on other planets, we can build the next network or laser cryptography where our satellite communications is direct and impenetrable,” he said.

Tucker added the agency could help Australia build more of its own satellites and become less reliant on other countries for communication.

The government made its announcement on the same day Australia's Labor party outlined its own plans to boost the country's space industry through the establishment of a space science and industry agency from 2020. 

Senator Kim Carr, opposition science spokesman, said Labor would also create a space industry innovation council and a space industry supplier advocate to bolster opportunities for investment.

“It is in Australia’s national interest to build our own capabilities in these areas, not only to meet current and future need but also it mitigate the risk of these services becoming unavailable,” he said.

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