Australia should certainly have its own space agency

Australia is one of only two OECD nations that doesn’t have a space agency – and that is not a badge of honour. Even though we’ve been involved in every NASA launch since the 50s, all we do is help track others activities via our ground stations. That’s important, but we’re very much hangers-on.

The idea of a space agency is not really about cool astronauts and going to Mars. Right now, we rely upon the kindness of our others to get access to the satellite data that makes a big country work. We aren’t in a position to leverage our home-grown skills. We aren’t taking advantage of our position to reap economic benefits.

Now, Australian space researchers are calling upon the Federal Government to set up a space agency in a white paper released this week. Highlights of the White Paper include:

  • Evidence that the Australian space sector currently produces annual revenues of $3-4 billion and employs between 9,500 and 11,500 people from its 0.8% share of the global space economy
  • Articulation of the Australian ‘case for space’
  • A call for an urgent government commitment to a permanent national space program of industry development overseen by an Australian Space Agency reporting directly to the Minister
  • A proposed industry development target to double Australia’s market share within five years
  • A longer term target of a five-fold share of the world market for Australian industry within 20 years.

While it’s not a promise to land man on the moon by the end of the decade, it is pretty inspirational stuff. It is an idea that sits solidly with the concept that Australia should become more innovative and should leverage the technological leads that it has. As any fan of science fiction or space knows, Australia is incredibly well-placed as a space launch site. Northern Australia is a cheaper launch site than Cape Canaveral in terms of fuel; it’s great for launching geo-stationary satellites; Australia has a stable government and geology; logistics are excellent; it’s an attractive place for qualified people to live; the list of positives just goes on.

Honestly, however, it’s hard to see the current government buying into this – a combined fear of spending money, of science, and of big ideas would argue against such a move. But, if the Government goes wild and surprises everyone, as the White Paper points out there is a perfect opportunity coming up:

Australia will have the attention of the world’s space leaders for an entire week when it hosts the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide in September 2017 – the world’s largest and most prestigious space meeting. This is an ideal opportunity to announce and highlight Australia’s renewed commitment as a global player in the space industry.

It really is time we took ourselves seriously and do more than just track other countries’ satellites and space vehicles.

By the way Iceland is the other country without a space agency. Even New Zealand has one.

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