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Australia in window of opportunity to become a space power: ASPI

satellite space

As industry awaits the release of the government’s space industry capability review, leading Australian think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has called on defence to seize on the opportunity presented by Australia’s burgeoning space industry.

ASPI has released a new report by Dr Malcolm Davis that looks at Australia's future in space. Dr Davis discusses Australia's traditionally risk-averse approach to space, noting a lack of government support and funding has led to a level of "unacceptable risk" by reliance on the US and other allies for defence and national security purposes.


"Our dependency on others for both defence and national security purposes, and more broadly for national economic activity, creates an unacceptable risk that in a crisis Australia could lose access to vital space systems, resulting in the rapid and catastrophic loss of military effectiveness and broader risks to national economic wellbeing," Dr Davis warned.

Davis said the government's announcement last year that it would establish a space agency and conduct the space industry capability review is a welcome change from the lack of support in the space industry previously shown by successive governments, offering an opportunity for Australia to become a game-changer in this field.

"Australia is approaching an important window of opportunity to change our approach to the use of space for defence and national security purposes and, more broadly, to the establishment of a sovereign space industry," Dr Davis wrote.

"We now have the opportunity to move from a traditional policy of dependency on others to become an active space power – one with sovereign space capabilities in orbit and an active and growing space industry sector co-ordinated by an Australian space agency."

To do this, Dr Davis has called on the next Defence White Paper to support a move away from external space providers providing support to the Australian Defence Force, and instead adopt a self-reliance approach, warning that Australia's space-enabled military force, and ultimately it’s a space power, only exists so long as the US, allies and commercial providers are willing and able to provide such a capability.

"It [the Defence White Paper] should explicitly embrace an increasing degree of space self-reliance in the form of locally developed sovereign space capabilities based on the Space 2.0 model," Dr Davis argued.

"This would include the sovereign development of small Australian satellites and a space launch capability. This could occur simultaneously as Australia moves to develop a sovereign space industry in which commercial space enterprises contribute to Defence’s needs in space capabilities wherever possible."

Dr Davis said developing and manufacturing satellites through the Defence portfolio would "energise and sustain the domestic space industry" and could then lead to growth in the sector to support "operationally responsive space capabilities for maritime domain awareness and communications support to the ADF."

"More specialised roles, such as space-based space situational awareness and cueing for integrated air and missile defence, could follow," he said.

Embracing Space 2.0, an approach that emphasises commercial space enterprises as leaders and exploits new technologies that deliver low costs and high returns, would not only be beneficial to Australia's space industry, but also the ADF, Dr Davis said. Space 2.0 is in stark contrast to Space 1.0, the "old approach" based on government-run space programs like NASA in the US.

The report argues the ADF will soon face challenges in the space area, noting there is a need for increasing bandwidth as key platforms, like the F-35 and the MQ-4C Triton, come into service. 

"There will be increasing requirements to use satellite communications for voice, video and data via our access to high-end ‘mil-spec’ satellites such as the Wideband Global SATCOM system and a greater requirement to use commercial satellites to provide additional bandwidth," Dr Davis wrote.

"The bandwidth challenge is already apparent, as more and more units depend on space support at the tactical level to function effectively. The extensive use of unmanned systems and the emerging era of robotics and the ‘internet of things’ in the battlespace tightens the linkage between the Earth and space in war."

Congestion is also tipped to be a problem, with Dr Davis noting "there’s a growing risk that space capabilities will be damaged or lost in collisions with space debris".

The government's review into the space industry capability was expected by the end of March this year, but industry insiders have tipped a later release due to ministerial reshuffles. Former senator Arthur Sinodinos stepped down from his role as the minister for industry, innovation and science due to illness last year.

Australia in window of opportunity to become a space power: ASPI
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