​Federal opposition promises AU$35m Australian Space Program

Labor has promised a multimillion-dollar investment to launch Australia into space.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia can look forward to a new Space Industry Program, comprising research hubs and local space industry development, if Bill Shorten wins the next federal election.

Labor is promising an investment of up to AU$35 million that will also require co-investment from the likes of industry and universities to get the program off the ground.

Within five years of its creation, Labor predicts an Australian space agency would be worth AU$3-4 billion annually in revenues, and create around 10,000 new jobs in the areas of advanced manufacturing, research, earth observation, and space technologies.

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The Australian Space Industry Program is slated to comprise four Australian Research Council (ARC) Space Industry research hubs, which Labor expects will "advance capabilities in emerging areas of industry-focused space research and technology".

There would also be two ARC Space Industry training centres that would work directly with industry in offering 25 industrial PhDs. The opposition is also promising to prioritise the establishment of a Cooperative Research Centre in advanced manufacturing and space technology in future funding rounds.

AU$18.5 million would come from the ARC for these initiatives.

Labor announced it would launch an Australian Space Science and Industry Agency (ASSIA) back in September, aimed at ensuring Australia does not miss out on the opportunities the global space industry presents.

The first phase of Labor's Australian Space Science and Industry Plan involves the establishment of a Space Industry innovation council to serve as an advisory board and a Space Industry supplier advocate for "opening up opportunities for space companies, attracting investment, and creating jobs".

Labor's Australian Space Science and Industry Policy [PDF], released on Thursday, details the role of the ASSIA. It states that from 2020, within the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the agency will be responsible for the AU$173.9 million contribution to landmark international space initiatives, such as the $1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is slated as the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed.

The agency will also have a mandate over civil space activities to develop a strategic plan and help facilitate the growth of the Australian space sector and space capabilities.

"There is a new space race and Australia is lagging at the back of the field," the policy says. "Countries and companies are competing for a share of the rapidly growing space economy. In Australia we have companies -- big and small -- ready to make their mark, and we have the people and the science ready to move the nation forward."

Labor said Australia has a long history in space, pointing to the launch of a rocket in Woomera in 1967 that saw Australia become the seventh nation to launch an object into space.

But only on three occasions in the past 50 years have Australian-built satellites been launched into space. The second was in 2002 and the third just recently when nano-satellites -- known as CubeSats -- were launched into orbit by NASA, with three built at UNSW's Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER).

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"Australia depends on space more than any other country in the world. Space-based applications impact our everyday lives," Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr said in a statement.

Such applications, according to Labor, include the use of satellite navigation for fruit and vegetable delivery to supermarkets; the use of satellite-optimised flood irrigation to boost crop yields; ATMs and other credit card applications using satellite-based timing synchronisation for its authorisation processes; mobile phone conversations; and emergency and disaster relief response, which Carr said relies on specialised satellite imagery and communications as "electrical power, cell phone towers, and cables can all be damaged".

In announcing his party's space promise, Carr called out the federal government for not beefing out the specifications of the Australian Space Agency that it announced last year, noting the government reluctantly agreed to establish the agency and is yet to provide any information on its budget, scope, mission, and resourcing.

The government revealed in September it would be establishing a national space agency once its review into the space industry was complete.

It then announced signing a Space Tracking Treaty with NASA in October, with Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Michaelia Cash saying the treaty "remains the foundation for a continued cooperative program between Australia and the United States".

At the time, Cash said Australia plays an important role in NASA's exploration of space, having assisted in "almost all of NASA's human and robotic missions to space".

According to the Space Industry Association of Australia, Australia is one of only two OECD countries that do not have a space agency.


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