Australian House Committee recommends for sovereign space capability to be developed

The Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources has delivered 38 recommendations to government on how to develop Australia's space industry.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources on Thursday published its bipartisan report featuring 38 recommendations, following the conclusion of its inquiry into developing Australia's space industry.

The Now Frontier: Developing Australia's Space Industry report [PDF] recommended ways for how Australia could drive growth and investment, encourage commercialisation of research and development, better facilitate collaboration, and grow the country's future space workforce.

"The pace at which space-based technologies and innovation are developing is set to revolutionise the way we live. There are enormous opportunities for individuals, organisations, and communities to take advantage of this growing sector, particularly in rural and regional areas," Committee chair Pat Conaghan said.

"In addition to improving our lives, this transformation will present real opportunities for Australia to be part of a growing and lucrative global space industry. Australia needs to position itself to capitalise on these opportunities."

Some of the specific recommendations put forward included the need for a national assessment of Australia's current and future space infrastructure requirements with particular emphasis on developing sovereign capability in identified areas, while acknowledging the need for industry to access a range of infrastructure for research and development.

"For the industry, COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerability of Australia's reliance on other countries for space-related technologies and services, and global supply chains. It reinforced the need for sovereign space capability so that Australia has what it needs to design, build, and maintain our own space requirements," the report said.

Further to the point of having a sovereign space capability, the committee said it will help Australia not only foster the development of skills, expertise, and "know-how", but it will position the nation as a globally competitive player, and strengthen national security and defence capabilities.

"It will also help to grow the economy and assist in post-COVID recovery," it added.

Off the back of this recommendation, the committee believes the Australian government, together with industry, need to define the country's overarching vision for the Australia space industry, by setting long-term national space priorities that will drive investment, public confidence, and position the country as a globally competitive player.

The committee also called for community education and outreach programs to be developed to promote the range of professions -- not generally associated with space -- such as law, medicine, project management, communications, and businesses that will all be required to support Australia's space industry.

Some of the programs include promoting the value of STEM through primary, secondary, and tertiary years to ensure a continued pipeline of specialist and technical expertise; examining options to improve education to industry pathways within the space sector; and introducing a program to connect adjacent industries with transferrable skills to the space industry.

"This inquiry helped to uncover that space is an accessible industry to those wishing to pursue a career in this field. The sector presents a lot of opportunity for Australia and the need to grow a workforce to support it is paramount," the committee wrote.

Another common theme that the committee said it picked up during its inquiry was the need for better alignment and coordination between the Australian defence and civil space priorities and programs. In turn, the committee has suggested the Australian government investigate ways this could be improved, including working with industry to identify current and future opportunities for the civil space sector to support Australian defence space requirements.

Funding, unsurprisingly, was another area that the committee examined, noting that currently funds are limited. Due to this, the committee has recommended for the federal government to review the way it's delivered, with particular focus on broadening funding streams to include contracts for specific space capability.

"The committee heard that the investment of the largest venture capital firms in Australia barely match the smallest funds invested elsewhere. This means there are limited funds to strategically invest in many local space technology businesses, and it also increases the probability that space technology companies will eventually move overseas to access larger capital markets," the committee said.

"Startups and businesses not only require funding support. Ensuring availability and access to necessary space infrastructure to support industry develop, design, test and manufacture technology is also fundamental to developing the domestic industry."

In terms of research and development within the space sector, the committee recommended for the Australian government to examine options to the intellectual property (IP) security of stakeholders within the space sector to promote a secure collaboration environment for academics, industry, and government.

"Successful collaboration between sectors across the space industry has the potential to translate into national and international benefits. These partnerships must be properly supported and fostered," the committee wrote.

"The committee appreciates the challenges that stakeholders shared regarding perceived inequity in access to funding, competing priorities in collaborative partnerships, or competition more generally across sectors … the committee recognises that Australia is in its infancy of research commercialisation. There is a need to protect Australian space-related IP, ensure fair access to it, and that collaborating efforts involving transfer of IP or discussion of ideas between stakeholders can occur in a secure environment."

The release of the report comes two days after the federal government announced it would hand out more grants for space technology initiatives as part of round two of the Demonstrator Program under the Moon to Mars initiative.

The Demonstrator Program provides funding to Australian industry and research institutions focusing on mission development activities for current and existing space projects. The objectives of the program are to support Australia's ambitions to join NASA's endeavour to go to the Moon and then Mars and accelerate the growth of Australia's space industry.

For this round of grants, organisations will be able to apply for "mission grants" of between AU$750,000 and AU$10 million from a total AU$41 million grant pool.

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