Celebrated NASA astronaut backs SA space agency

Celebrated NASA astronaut joins calls for SA space agency

Retired Australian-born astronaut Andy Thomas has backed calls for a South Australian-based space agency.

The former NASA astronaut of 22 years has written to Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne to push for investments in the aerospace industry and the formation of a national space agency.

In a letter sent to Minister Pyne and published on the Australian Space Industry Association's website, Mr Thomas argues Australia has "a unique moment" to make "strategic investments in the emerging space-related economy".

Mr Thomas said the nation is missing out on economic and employment opportunities.

"The world-wide space industry is a $350 billion per year activity growing at an annual rate of about $10 billion per year. And for a developed country, it is staggering that Australia accesses less than 1 per cent of this huge industry. We are missing out on a rich opportunity for innovation, employment and accessing potential export markets," the letter read.

"Space-related businesses on the international arena are going through transformational and disruptive changes, as launch services are now being provided by commercial entities, rather than conventional government contracting."

Mr Thomas, who was educated in South Australia at the St Peter's College and the University of Adelaide, said South Australia is in the perfect position to take advantage of transformations in the innovative industry.

"These times create a real opportunity for Australia to make strategic investments in this transformative industry leading, potentially, to thousands of high-tech blue collar and white collar jobs. And I am unashamedly pro-South Australia in this since it meshes and overlaps so well with existing local defense industries, especially undertakings such as the submarine build."

The accomplished astronaut, who retired in 2014, also stressed that without a national agency, Australia is "doomed".

"We need a national agency that speaks for the country and with ministerial authority. Without that Australia is doomed to be forever dependent on other nations for its space-related security, its space-related economy, its space-related defense and its space-related environmental assessments.

"We cannot afford to let that happen. We need a centralised office that can advance Australia's interests with a firm and respected voice. Only the authority of a national space agency can do that. It is the language other international players work within and it is the forum they expect."

As reported on Defence Connect, the Space Industry Association of Australia last month released its white paper Advancing Australia in Space to the federal Minister for Industry Innovation and Science, calling for the Australian government to commit to a permanent national space program and establish an Australian space agency.

The South Australian government agreed to advocate for the establishment of an Australian space agency based in Canberra, with South Australia as its operational centre, after considering the white paper.

South Australian Minister for Defence Industries Martin Hamilton-Smith, one of the state’s biggest advocates Canberra/South Australian space agency, said the formation of such would create jobs for future graduates.

"The creation of an Australian space agency with an operational centre in Adelaide will provide a number of benefits for South Australians. Similar to the defence industry, the space sector will deliver opportunities for manufacturers to transition to a high-technology, high-growth sector," Mr Hamilton-Smith said.

"South Australian universities and their students will benefit from increased international R&D partnerships and research opportunities with flow through to STEM activities in our secondary schools. The space industry will provide high-value jobs for young South Australians.”

The state’s ambitions are also backed by advocacy body Defence SA which last year released a strategy detailing how the state can capitalise on the space industry.

"In recent years, the global space sector has undergone a significant evolution in technological development, knowledge dissemination and overall size. Between 1998 and 2015, space sector growth was about three times the annual growth rate of the world's GDP," the Defence SA Space Innovation and Growth Strategy report said.

"In recent years, the space economy has experienced exponential global growth … revenue from space-related activities in 2015 was about US$323 billion, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.52 per cent from 1998 to 2015."

With Adelaide set to host the International Astronautical Congress this year, the state is hoping to move quickly on this matter.

The congress, from 25-29 September, is expected to attract around 4,000 international and local delegates, including the world’s leading space agencies, making it one of the largest conferences held in the city and set to inject around $20 million into the local economy.

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