Space Nation – An astronomic opportunity

Last September, the Australian government announced its intention to establish an Australian Space Agency. Combined with federal government funding of $41 million to kick-start the Australian space sector and a further $393.3 million to invest in research infrastructure, the interest in space has reawakened. But how relevant is the space industry in the grand scheme of things?

In October 2017, the space industry in Australia reportedly generated total revenue approaching $4 billion per annum and employed around 10,000 full time equivalents. That is already significant and proof that we are very capable. The space industry comprises nearly 400 companies, more than 50 education and research institutions and directly involves around 24 government agencies.

But are we really showcasing our skill and maximising the value to our nation? Not yet.

The global space economy is estimated to be worth US$345 billion. However, despite our highly relevant capabilities and geographical advantage, Australia draws in less than one percent of that business.

Why and how should Australia get involved?

Australia is a nation of big and bold thinkers. We have a proven track record across invention, innovation, and commercialisation. We can apply our proven capabilities in other scientific and industrial fields along most of the space industry supply chain.

More specifically, we already have leading capabilities in manufacturing nanosatellites and some of the strongest research programs on the planet including the Square Kilometer Array (SKA). This means we have technology and capabilities that will be valuable to big business and other nations. And, while we have little-to-no capability in manufacturing large spacecraft, we do have an emerging industry producing specialist launch vehicles and specialised ‘on planet’ vehicles.

We also have a geographic advantage – being ideally located to provide southern hemisphere ground stations and great sites for launching into the valuable equatorial orbit.

We need a coordinated and collaborative effort

The first and most important message for those interested in the success of Australia’s space industry is that the size of the prize is big enough for all States and Territories to participate– our competitors are based in other nations! It is more important for us to define our uniquely Australian specialties and develop them further now to meet the upcoming demand, so that we are well positioned to be competitive globally.

Next steps?

There are several key actions that Australia could take in the next six months to break the inertia of past decades and blast our industry into hyper drive:

  1. Commitment and industry leadership

    Business builds business.
    Industry needs to reaffirm the Government investment by investing its own time and resource in the next stages

  2. Space Hubs and specialisations

    All State and Territory jurisdictions need to carefully examine the areas in which they have advantage and to prepare development plans to maximise the benefits. Relevant factors will include market analysis, geographic considerations, existing research and industrial base capabilities, skills attraction and development (for today and tomorrow) and respective roles of regional and metropolitan areas.

    The new Space Agency head, Dr. Megan Clark, has spoken of the opportunity to create ‘Space Hubs’ – and these could be located across the country. Just imagine how big and bold our space industry will look when we have specialist Space Hubs with clear missions and natural synergies

  3. Draw on the best knowledge from other industries and develop the skills of the future

    The Australian space industry is already embedded in many areas of the Australian economy. Our existing capabilities overlap with space industry capability in many areas including construction, mining, transport, manufacturing and agriculture. These industries can be both contributors to, and beneficiaries from, growth in space industry capability

  4. Data = Knowledge = Power

    While much of the early discussion has been on building, launching and orbiting – data is one of the single biggest economic opportunities flowing from the space sector.

    We need to ensure we have the infrastructure, legislation and access/control mechanisms in place as a matter of priority. Data collected from space is already critical to transport, urban development, telecommunications, mining, agriculture and Defence.

    With our location in the southern hemisphere, we can be a trusted ally in collecting data in places and at times that northern hemisphere locations cannot. We need to use this to our strategic and economic advantage

  5. International Partnerships

    Australia is a trusted nation. We have a reputation for fair play and low sovereign risk. This means we are a safe place for businesses and nations to make long term investments.
    There is much that we can do by ourselves – but there are also fields where we will create much bigger gains by forming international partnerships.

    There are many nations, especially across Europe and Asia, with whom Australia has existing positive relationships in fields other than space. We need to start formally identifying and pursuing opportunities for beneficial partnerships in space too.

Australia must respond to the reality that space is no longer merely a place for one’s furthest dreamy gaze. Space is new industrial field and it is rapidly becoming a contested, congested and complex operational domain. We need to get organised, get active and get into it.

Australia – a space nation. The NEW Australian Space Industry. Launching in 10, 9, 8…

Want to stay up-to-date?

Stay on trend and in the know when you sign up for our latest content