WA joins Aussie space efforts with AU$6m investment from Canberra

Western Australia will play its part in developing the country's space industry through the launch of a robotics and artificial intelligence mission control facility aimed at advancing the remote operation of autonomous and robotic systems in space.

WA joins Aussie space efforts with AU$6m investment from Canberra

The federal government has given Western Australia AU$6 million to play its part in developing the nation's space industry.

The WA government will also be stumping up AU$2 million for the initiative.

Signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Wednesday, federal Science Minister Karen Andrews and WA Science Minister Dave Kelly said the investment aims to "encourage partnerships and engagement with the global space ecosystem to drive economic growth in WA and nationally".

Hoping to triple the size of Australia's space agency, Andrews said the agreement was centred on supporting WA's space sector to create jobs, diversify the economy, and boost innovation.

"This MoU outlines key areas where the Australian Space Agency can work with WA to support business and academia," she said.

"This agreement will leverage WA's growing space capabilities in areas such as adopting the robotics and automation capabilities in the resources sector for use in space."

The funding comes in two parts, with AU$4.5 million to be used towards a robotics and artificial intelligence mission control facility, which Andrews and Kelly said will advance the remote operation of autonomous and robotic systems in space.

The remaining AU$1.5 million will be used to support space data analysis facilities, which will support analysis of satellite data for areas such as mining, agriculture, emergency services, and maritime surveillance. The ministers said this is aimed at building capability in data analysis for space missions. 

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Meanwhile the AU$2 million from the state government has been broadly allocated to WA's partnership with the Australian Space Agency.

"The robotics and artificial intelligence mission control facility will be a key component in the development of the nation's capability to advance robotic and autonomous activities in space," Kelly said. "WA is well placed to play a leading role in this endeavour, building on our world-leading industry expertise in remote operations."

According to Kelly, the support to access and analyse space-sourced data will benefit WA across a range of sectors, and will build capability that could lead to a greater role for WA in the analysis of deep space mission data.

"It's great to see our submission to the ASA in August 2018 showing real dividends for the WA space sector," he added.

WA, along with other states and territories, spent six months battling to host the Australian Space Agency, with South Australia emerging victorious in December.

Western Australia argued at the time it had the element of physical space on its side, and in a report commissioned by the state government, it was said WA's geographic advantages have been reinforced by investments in communications and computational infrastructure, and access to technical expertise.

"Western Australia's southern hemisphere location and latitude were ideal for space situational awareness and networks that required global coverage of space assets. They create significant opportunities for space situational awareness, optical communications, astronomy, space operations, and defence space applications," the state explained.

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WA also has the $1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is slated the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed.

Touted as the world's largest science project, involving 20 countries and covering over 1 million square metres of data collection area, the SKA has its central cores of operation in South Africa and Western Australia, with its central computer alone boasting the processing power of about 100 million PCs.

The Australian Space Agency was stood up in July 2018, with a AU$41 million, four-year investment made under the 2018-19 federal Budget.

Under the guidance of former Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) boss Megan Clark, the agency has a mandate to triple the size of Australia's domestic space industry up to AU$12 billion by 2030, generating 20,000 new Australian jobs, and getting more kids to take up STEM-focused careers.

"WA hosts significant civil and defence space infrastructure including the recently opened Airbus Zephyr flight base, has existing collaboration with NASA and the European Space Agency, and will support the Agency's role in strengthening Australia's relationship with these and other international space agencies," Clark said on Wednesday following the announcement of the MoU.