At long last, Australia is set to get its own version of NASA, with the budget on Tuesday night providing initial funding of $41 million to get it up and running.
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This is termed the National Space Agency (NSA), avoiding the obvious – National Australian Space Agency (NASA).
Much hasn’t been decided, such as specifically where the new body will be located, though Canberra, which hosts the deep space tracking station at Tidbinbilla plus a number of companies involved in space, is an early favourite.
The funding comprises $26 million over four years plus $15 million over three years for grants.
Former CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark has been tipped to take the job of inaugural head of the new body.
Dr Clark headed the expert reference group that conducted the recent Space Industry Capability Review, which recommended creation of a formal body to oversee Australia’s extensive interests in space.
The decision was good news for Lockheed Martin Australia, a significant player in Australia's space sector.
“Lockheed Martin is proud to have had a long-term presence in Australia’s space industry and we foresee a close working relationship with the new National Space Agency,” said Vince Di Pietro, Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive.
The budget also included substantial funding for applying satellite data to Australia. That’s $225 million to make GPS signals accurate to centimetres rather than metres. That has significant application for agriculture, mining and transport.
There’s also $36.9 million to improve Digital Earth Australia, a platform that assembles global satellite images of Australia.
Rod Drury, Lockheed Martin Space managing director for Australia and New Zealand, welcomed the investment to improve GPS.
“The Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) testbed that we are collaborating on with partners including Geoscience Australia will give much greater accuracy that will improve safety, productivity, efficiency and innovation in a range of Australian industries,” he said.
Mr Drury told Defence Connect a national space agency would serve as a focal point, particularly as we interact with the rest of the world.
“It is important that we have that single face to the globe, particularly from a whole of nation perspective,” he said.
“I want to recognise the tremendous leadership and significant drive of Dr Megan Clark as the head of the expert reference group.”
Mr Drury said the space industry capability review informed the government and led to this decision.
“Her contribution and her leadership really stand out,” he said.
Mr Drury said the $41 million allocation included some funding to establish and administer agency activities. The $15 million space investment initiative would seed some research and development activities.
“That’s always very important to us. We would like to see some of that seed money used for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics education) because without STEM you don’t get the R&D,” he said.
“Overall, we are very pleased with that. We look forward to playing a role as part of the industry in helping the agency not only establish itself but establish a very firm footing on the global stage.”
Mr Drury said the funding for improved GPS was also most welcome.
“The capability that is being delivered through the test bed is already being picked up by industry,” he said.