Australia to set up national space agency

Australia plans to establish a national space agency as part of efforts to play a greater role in the fast-growing space industry.

The federal government announced the commitment to set up a national space agency on September 25.

Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Michaelia Cash told the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide a national space agency was in line with long-term plans to grow Australia’s domestic space industry.

“It will provide the vehicle for Australia to have a long-term strategic plan for space – a plan that supports the innovative application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry, including through defence space procurement,” Senator Cash said on September 26.

“But this is not just about an agency for an agency’s sake: that is why this review process is so important. We now need to put in the hard work to determine what form of agency and what mandate is best suited to support our growing space industry.”

A national space agency is being examined by the federal government’s Expert Reference Group chaired by former CSIRO chief Dr Megan Clark, with 200 submissions received in response to an issues paper released earlier in 2017.

The reference group was expected to develop a charter and advise on the possible structure and scope for Australia’s national space agency by the end of March 2018.

“I have heard people ask ‘why even have a review?’. Well, the space industry of today is not the same as it was a decade ago, and likely not the same as it will be a decade from now,” Cash said.

“It is crucial that we take the time now to understand that landscape and create the structures and policies – and the agency – that are right for the industry of today and tomorrow, not the industry of yesterday.

“And so when people ask will we have a NASA? No. We will have an Australian space agency. Right for our nation, and right for our industry.”

While there have been two Australian-born astronauts who have gone into space – Paul Scully-Power and Andy Thomas – the pair had to become US citizens in order to do so, University of New South Wales director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) Andrew Dempster said.

A national space agency would put space within the reach of more Australians.

“Until now, anyone wanting to become an astronaut had the odds stacked against them,” Dempster said in a statement.

“They had to become citizens of a another country, like the US, and then work hard to get into a space agency like NASA. That won’t be the case any more: in fact, the first home-grown astronaut may only be years away.”

Further, having a national space agency would facilitate more collaboration with other nations space missions and projects, helping grow an industry that in this country is worth up to $5 billion and employed about 11,500 people.

“We’ve got only two per cent of the global space market, but we should have four per cent based on Australia’s proportion of global GDP,” Dempster said.

“So there’s a real opportunity there, because we have the skills and there are Australian companies operating in this area, but no national coordination.

“In the civilian sphere, Australia should be number one in space, but we’re just nowhere near that.”

Australia is one of the few developed nations without a national space agency.