News National Last in space: the case for an Australian ‘catch up’ space program

Last in space: the case for an Australian ‘catch up’ space program

Australia space industry
The global space industry's revenue is more than $420 billion a year. Photo: Twitter
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Australia is bludging off the rest of the world when it comes to space.

That is the argument from proponents of Australia having its own space agency.

The idea is no longer purely fantasy, after Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos announced the government would review Australia’s space capabilities.

But many countries, including Australia, launch their satellites from French Guiana in South America, rather than having a domestic capacity.

Andrew Dempster, director of the Centre for Space Engineering Research, is more concerned that Australia is “freeloading” when it comes to the data available from satellites.

He noted Australia used the data paid for by taxpayers of other countries to examine farmland and waterways and respond to natural disasters.

Professor Dempster said that while Australia had been accepting free data, countries like Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria and Singapore have started space programs to launch satellites.

He argued a domestic space agency could allow Australia to design specific research tasks rather than taking the “leftovers” from other countries.

‘Australia’s involvement in space should be in niche areas’

A decade ago, a Senate committee explored whether Australia had become “lost in space”, as it titled in its report.

“The report does not propose to land an Australian citizen on Mars, although it would like to see an Australian contribution to such an international mission,” it said.

“Rather, Australia’s involvement in the space industry should be focused on niche areas.”

The cross-party committee noted how much Australians rely on space technology for communications, navigation and vital services like weather forecasting.

Nasa spacewalk
Australian astronauts must become citizens of another country to take part in space missions.

But it also probed further, noting suggestions that the Indian Ocean off Western Australia is the ideal location for a “space elevator”.

It described the elevator as a thin carbon nanotube connecting a barge to a space station to carry supplies.

“Construction could draw on the WA oil industry’s expertise in constructing offshore platforms,” it said, noting that NASA has been investigating the feasibility of the project.

The committee quoted both Frank Sinatra’s song Fly Me to the Moon and Australian duo Savage Garden’s tune To the Moon and Back as it wondered if Australia was a potential hub for space tourism.

‘It could happen’

Australian astronaut Andy Thomas told the committee that Australia was well placed, but it would not happen soon.

“Australia provides an ideal forum for many of these high altitude parabolic flights, which is what most of them are,” he said.

“However, the market is still small, so I think it will be quite some time before it would be buoyant enough to have operations in Australia as well as the other planned operations – for example, that in New Mexico, that Richard Branson is supporting, and so on – but, ultimately, that could happen.”

Professor Dempster has cited Dr Thomas as a reason for Australia to develop its own space agency.

He noted that an Australian wanting to become an astronaut must adopt the citizenship of another nation, as Dr Thomas did when he became dual US and Australian citizen.


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