Australia is taking one giant leap towards creating its own space industry, with the government announcing a review into the nation’s space capabilities.
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos announced the review will look into Australia's space policy and will look at creating an Australian NASA. The review panel will be made up of experts and will be chaired by former CSIRO boss Dr Megan Clark.
Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne welcomed the review, saying it will lead to a national strategy for the sector that reflects Australia’s national interests over the next decade, and aligns with Australian government priorities, including defence.
Minister Pyne said the 2016 Defence White Paper acknowledged space-based and space-enabled capabilities, and the vital role they play in Australian Defence Force and Coalition operations.
"The government has recently announced new investment in Australia’s space capabilities," Minister Pyne said.
On 10 July, the government announced that Australia’s deployed forces will receive a major communications boost with a $223 million contract with Northrop Grumman Australia for the acquisition, construction and support of a new satellite ground station.
Minister Pyne said the government’s support for the role that Australian industry plays in supporting ADF operations and the capability needed to protect Australia’s national interests.
"This government plans to invest around $200 billion in Defence capability over the next 10 years, of which space capabilities will be an important part. This will provide opportunities for industry growth and employment," said Minister Pyne.
"The government’s $1.6 billion investment in defence industry and innovation programs over the next decade will ensure that we invest in the industry we need to support our defence capability requirements and transition world leading Australian research, development and innovation into practical defence capability."
Defence will work with a range of stakeholders, including industry, through the Next Generation Technologies Fund, and the Defence Innovation Hub has also been established to assist in developing innovative technology and ideas to support Defence capability. It seeks proposals aligned with the six key capability streams identified in the Integrated Investment Program, which includes space.
"The Centre for Defence Industry Capability I launched on 5 December 2016 is also focused on building the capability of Australian small to medium enterprises to be positioned to support Defence’s capability requirements, including to support our space-based capability needs," Minister Pyne said.
Retired Australian-born astronaut Andy Thomas wrote to Minister Pyne in May this year to push for investments in the aerospace industry and the formation of a national space agency.
In the letter, which was also published on the Australian Space Industry Association's website, Thomas argues Australia has "a unique moment" to make "strategic investments in the emerging space-related economy".
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.
Australia is currently one of just two OECD nations without a space agency, the other being Iceland.
Minister Sinodinos said the review "is really about how do we set the scene for developing a space industry in Australia".
"And in that context, what role changed governance arrangements could play, including possibly the role of a space agency," he said.
"We'll look at the pros and cons of this.
"This is really a way to bring the whole issue to a head."
The review's report is expected by the end of March next year.