Demand for satellite sovereignty grows among Australian agencies and policy bodies

The New South Wales government has also further cemented its space strategy with the launch of a node to support industry-research collaboration.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Australian government agencies, state governments, and policy bodies have collectively called for Australia to develop its own sovereign satellite capability as part of their submissions to a Standing Committee inquiry into developing Australia's space industry.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), for instance, outlined that for the purpose of being able to provide the country with timely and accurate weather forecasts, warnings, and alerts, Australia would need to have its own satellite capability, particularly as the space sector becomes increasingly saturated.

"All satellite data used by the Bureau is received from international partners … this arrangement has worked well but access to this data is not guaranteed into the future," BoM said in its submission [PDF].

"In recent years there has been an exponential growth in commercial satellite data providers offering new business models, resulting in potential threats and opportunities in the space industry. In the future, this may pose a risk to the volume of data the Bureau can access if current arrangements for the free and open exchange of international satellite data are reduced."

BoM added having satellite sovereignty means "data security would also be ensured by enhanced and coordinated Australian contributions to the international meteorological satellite community" while resulting in flow benefits such as greater commercialisation opportunities.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) agreed with BoM in its submission [PDF], stating that sovereignty could lead to the development of a resilient space sector where it could assist the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in information-based warfare, if required.

"To achieve true space resilience its vital to reduce our dependency on other states and on foreign commercial providers of space capability … government should expand our ability for small satellite design, development, and manufacture, including establishing an ability to rapidly produce large numbers of small satellites for operationally responsive space requirements to augment existing space capability in a future crisis," the ASPI said.

On the point of the role that the Australian space sector could play in national security, the Space Industry Association of Australia recommended the Department of Defence "designate access to space and the design, testing, launch, and operations of satellites as what it referred to as sovereign industrial capability priorities".

The space industry association also wants to see a space policy be developed to give the sector more guide about the role space could play in defence.

"There is no comprehensive articulation of the government's national security interests and objectives in the space, much less a detailed account of how these are to be achieved," it stated in its submission [PDF] to the committee.

Read also: Earth Day space take: Cleaning up space debris around our home planet (TechRepublic)

Similar remarks were made by Boeing in its recommendation as part of its submission [PDF], which said the Australian government needed to develop a set of national space industry priorities and ensure military, institutional, and commercial space markets were considered as a "contiguous whole", rather than separately.

"Tighter cross-coupling of Defence investment within civilian industry development priorities will help to streamline industry focus by avoiding the evolution of separate industrial capabilities for government agencies and commercial applications," the company said.

The Australian government also has an opportunity to support the local sector, said Boeing, such as by supporting space technology transfer proposals and licence requests by industry to facilitate technology transfers into Australia from overseas. It added that the government should recognise the need for industry to better exploit IP generated as a result of government-funded space collaborations.

According to the New South Wales government, leaving Australia to continue to rely on space capabilities provided by other countries "increases Australia's vulnerability" when it comes to implications associated with national security, communications, navigation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and scientific research.

"The space industry is growing rapidly, and it is important Australia takes a competitive position in this growing market. Space technologies will provide important inputs (such as data and intelligence) into other industries such as agriculture and infrastructure. Ensuring Australia has capabilities in space technology that are internationally competitive will grow our local space industry, and enhance productivity and economic competitiveness in other upstream and downstream sectors," the state government said in its submission [PDF]

On Thursday, the NSW government further cemented its commitment to the local space sector with the launch of its own node of the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), which it touted will help lead space-related research and industry collaboration through three different grant programs. These grants will be designed to fund the teaming up of industry and research, place industry staff within universities, and provide access to equipment, laboratory space, and research infrastructure.

The node will be led by Space Industry Association of Australia chair Dr Tim Parsons and based in Tech Central.


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