Flinders University space archaeologist Dr Alice Gorman said the time is right to establish a national space agency but with a model unique to Australia.
“We can’t afford to get stuck on Earth when everyone else is going to the stars. Australia can finally step up and participate as an equal with other nations,” she said.
“The European Space Agency has nine centres and NASA runs 11 which support spaceflight programs. Large chunks of the private sector rely on them, but our model has to be different.”
Dr Gorman said continued investment by private corporations can be capitalised on with the seed funding committed by the government in this week’s budget for a dedicated agency – allowing Australia the opportunity to grow its market share in a booming sector.
She also said the push for advancements in space technology and space exploration offers Australia and Australian businesses opportunities in a global market.
“This is an investment which allows us to compete in the global space race. We are talking about an industry that will need engineers, scientists, researchers, archaeologists, and even writers and artists. Some skin in the game also gives our voice credibility on issues like space junk and space treaties,” Dr Gorman said.
The Space Industry Association of Australia predicts Australia can increase its share in the market from 0.8 to 4 percent within 20 years.
While an early mover in the bourgeoning space industry over 50 years ago, Australia has not kept pace.
“In 1967, Australia became the third nation to launch a satellite on its own territory but has lagged behind since without a dedicated agency,” Dr Gorman said.
She said Australia can’t afford to neglect the industry and the investment [as outlined in the 2018 federal budget to space expansion] will also help solve critical issues back on Earth.
“Space medicine is a growing area [for example], and research done on bone density and vision impairment helps both astronauts and people on Earth. We can also develop our Earth observation capabilities for disaster and environmental management,” Dr Gorman said.
“This investment isn’t taking revenue away from important issues, but will actually contribute to solving them using the data that’s gathered.”