Industry wants to make space more accessible to grow Australia's talent pool

Some firms say it's a matter of national security.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Both local and international space companies have stressed the importance of Australia building its own talent pool to ensure the country's space industry will succeed.

"I think space is seen as cool. It's something to be involved in but I think the problem is that people don't necessarily know how to get into it," Airbus told the Standing Committee of Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources, as part of its inquiry into developing Australia's space industry.

"I think there's a problem of space being inaccessible, both in terms of actual space and space as an industry where it tends to be seen that the scientists are the ones that are needed. They obviously are but then you need mathematicians, but you also need business people, you need people with strategy backgrounds, you need people with accountancy backgrounds, you need a whole range of people to make space work to make it a commercial enterprise.

"You need to make it a commercial enterprise so people can see that way in. If you try to make space sexy by looking at astronauts, by looking at very capable individuals that makes it quite inaccessible for the majority of people."

Airbus' advice was to think about how to commercialise Australia's space industry so that to everyday Australians a career in space is accessible and realistic, such as reminding people that "when they're following the little blue dots on Google Maps, that's because of some very clever scientists".

"You don't have to be the top physicist in the world to have a career in space. You can be a very good accountant to go into space, you can be a very good configuration manager and have a career in space. It's about widening the view about space, rather than narrowing," the company added.

See also: 6 space missions to look forward to in 2021 (TechRepublic)

Earthspace agreed, noting that Australia currently lacks the right skills set for space because the country has been dependent on other countries for space-based services for so long. The company said Australia should aspire to build the space industry much like the country did when it came to the car industry.

"We no longer have [the car industry] but before that, it was the peak integrator, and underneath it was a pyramid of supply capability capacity know-how of how to make cars. We don't have that pyramid under the space industry at this time, so there's an essential step that we need to take to build that. Some of that is going to be the responsibility of industry, some of it will be aided by government intervention," the company said.

It went on to describe the approach will be a "multi-layered" process involving establishing training programs at "one or two key centres within Australia that are empowered and informed with that know-how knowledge of how to screw things together so that they work reliably when they get into space -- it is not trivial".

Having appropriate STEM programs in place is another aspect that needs to be considered, Earthspace suggested.

"Anybody who has had kids -- space and dinosaurs -- kids love them. If this country has an aspirational program to stimulate that inspiration, then that's great. But it's almost a chicken and an egg thing. Everybody knows about NASA. What's Australia doing? We don't know what we're doing because we're not doing enough yet. We've got bits and pieces of excellence, and a lot of emptiness in between."

According to Electro Optic Systems (EOS), developing local skills to support the Australian space industry is a matter of national security.

"My view is the next war will be won or lost in space and in cyberspace … Australia's Defence Force is focused on platforms, and has less than 100 people who have anything or know anything about space, so we need to grow both their capability … we need to mobilise the Australian industry as a force multiplier in Defence … [by] 10 or 100-fold capacity than what Defence can achieve alone," a company representative said on Friday.

"We cannot do that with foreign nationals … so Australian industry is the key to our surviving or even preventing the future war, if we can put enough credible capability in place to make ourselves … unpleasant enough to decide not to take on."

Similar remarks were made by Canberra-based cybersecurity firm Penten, which believes that the space industry will be an extension of the cybersecurity sector. The company urged the government to consider introducing a framework to help protect local intellectual property, which they claim would be "fundamental" for developing the local space industry.

"It also gives us a real presence about what we're doing. The importance of the gravitas of how we support it. Having the elbow room to create innovation, to deliver it, and then see it actually in action requires people to be conscious of what they're doing … real sovereignty is that," the company said.

Bushfire detection satellite to be launched into space

Three Australian space companies have signed an agreement to launch a bushfire detection satellite into space.

In-space transportation provider Space Machines Company has agreed to deploy Fireball.International's bushfire detection satellite into final orbit on board of its orbit transport, Optimus-1 in 2022.

Optimus-1 will be launched into space following an agreement between Space Machines Company and Gilmour Space Technologies, which was signed last September.

The satellite itself has been designed to provide automated bushfire detection and tracking.

"The fact that three Australian companies are joining to accomplish this vital mission is evidence of a growing sovereign industrial capability in space technology in our country," Space Machines Company founder and CEO Rajat Kulshrestha said.

"Space technology has vital real-world applications, and it's important for Australia as a country to build and own the technology that allows us to explore the possibilities space offers - from deep research for our scientists to ventures like this that will make us more resilient against extreme weather events."

Must read: Apollo 11 50 years on: A look at Australia's role in the moon landing

Last week, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) used bushfire detection as an example to highlight there are warranted reasons for Australia to have its own national space capability.

"Bushfire monitoring, for example, if you don't have real-time access to data, you can't do it from satellites. To have real-time access to data, you've got to have a very good relationship with another country, or you've got to own a satellite. That's a decision for government, rather than a decision for CSIRO -- we can provide advice," CSRIO executive director of digital, national facilities and collections David Williams told the Standing Committee previously.


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