Australian space agency a possibility as government launches industry review

The aim of the review is to establish a long-term strategy to foster the growth of Australia's space industry.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

The Australian federal government has announced that it will conduct a review into the nation's space industry with the goal of developing a 10-year plan to grow the sector and boost its global competitiveness.

A 10-person expert panel -- chaired by former CSIRO CEO Dr Megan Clark -- has been selected by the government to perform the review.

"This review is timely, given the current pace of change in the international space sector and advances in technologies that provide an environment that encourages commercial investment in space activities," said Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos in a statement.

Sinodinos believes through developing the technical knowledge for the space sector, Australia will develop skills to grow other manufacturing industries.

"The government is ... planning and preparing for the next generation of civil space technologies and capabilities by putting in place the legislative and regulatory reforms and platforms aimed at simplifying regulatory arrangements, spurring innovation, and reducing barriers to participation in the space industry," a spokesperson from the office of the industry minister told ZDNet in June.

Fleet co-founder and CEO Flavia Tata Nardini, who has been selected as one of the members of the expert panel, said the announcement shows that the Australian government is "taking the potential of space more seriously".

"Currently, we're amazing at space research, but our commercial application of the sector needs work. This review is a huge step forward in achieving that goal, and we're thrilled it's happening," she added.

The review builds on the principles set out in Australia's Satellite Utilisation Policy (2013) and the findings from the recently completed review of the Space Activities Act 1998.

The industry minister said space legislation reform is currently underway to reflect technological advances and provide a regulatory environment that is "appropriately conducive to commercial investment in the space sector".

The review will examine Australia's current capability and areas of advantage, as well as the nation's level of regional engagement and international collaboration to identify future partnerships.

"Space has no borders, so a strategy that enables better international collaboration must be an outcome of the review. We also want more support for space-led innovation, be it satellites, rockets, or deep space exploration," Tata Nardini said.

"We believe the best way for us to achieve these things is through an Australian Space Agency."

According to the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA), Australia is one of only two OECD countries that do not have a space agency. SIAA claims the Australian space industry amounts to less than 1 percent of the global space economy, generating $3 billion to $4 billion in annual revenue.

Globally, the space sector has grown at a CAGR of 9.5 percent each year from the late 1990s to 2015.

Tata Nardini had previously penned an open letter to the Australian federal government, saying that the the next industrial revolution is going to start in space.

"Emerging space technologies and the data they return will usher in mass-scale efficiencies here on Earth, shifting industries like mining, logistics, technology, farming, mobility, connectivity, and environmental care, for good," Tata Nardini wrote in the letter.

Additionally, the review will examine risks and opportunities, including access to space data and associated infrastructure.

SIAA stated in a paper recently that Australia is a "passive consumer" of satellite data, relying heavily on international partnerships -- such as with Europe, Japan, and the US -- for purchasing the satellite data used by individuals and businesses every day, including for insurance assessment, managing natural disasters, and weather forecasting.

The SIAA argued that there is a "vital national interest" in maintaining the infrastructure, capabilities, and international relationships required to secure access to satellite data sources.

"A key issue in the development of our national space policy should therefore be the securing of long-term access for strategic purposes, preferably from Australian territory, to foreign-owned space-segment capabilities, both military and civil," the SIAA said.

"Furthermore, as the geopolitical environment changes, Australia needs to become a technology contributor to those partnerships, or it risks significantly rising costs or, even, loss of access ... Australia would also be well advised to consider ways to reduce its dependence on the traditional data sources, and consider its own national priorities in the development of new systems."

Tata Nardini said on Thursday that the review needs to consider how to nurture the next generation of space innovators.

"We'd also love to see space and the opportunities it will bring in the national STEM curriculum to inspire the next generation of space entrepreneurs and enthusiasts; this is critical if we are to thrive in the global space industry for years to come," she said.

"We need to create the foundations for our future generations to carry on, and improve on, the work that we're doing today."

The review is commencing later this month and is scheduled for completion by end of March 2018.

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