Australia has officially opened its own space agency in Adelaide after it was found to be the only country in the OECD without its own.
The Australian Space Agency opened its Adelaide headquarters on February 19 with visits from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and science minister Karen Andrews officiating the ceremony. The new agency is located in the centre of Adelaide, wedged between the University of Adelaide and the city's botanic garden.
Why is Australia suddenly getting a space agency?
It's an interesting question because the space race hasn't been a primary focus for the Australian government for a number of years. In September 2017, Senator Birmingham announced at the 68th International Astronautical Congress the government was looking to create its own space agency.
South Australia - the home of the world's biggest lithium ion battery, Maggie Beer and now... the Australian Space Agency.
As with all things space, it was going to need a lot of investment and three years later, PM Morrison revealed that figure at the agency's opening — around $700 million — and he expected it to bring with it a number of jobs by 2030.
"The Australian Space Agency is central to my Government's vision to secure more jobs and a larger share of the growing space economy — forecast to be over $1 trillion in size around the globe by 2040," Morrison said in at the agency's launch.
"That's why we're investing almost $700 million into the space sector, including $150 million into Australian businesses so they can pick up more work and support more jobs by partnering with NASA's Moon to Mars initiative.
"Our work is to transform Australia into a major space player. We're not mucking around with this. We're not playing around with this. We are fair dinkum about this. You don't put $600 million down on a dud bet," Morrison said in a later address to the agency.
Karen Andrews, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, said it was planning to grow the sector to $12 billion by that time.
"Space is inspirational but it's also big business. The Morrison Government is investing heavily in providing opportunity to Australians. We've set the goal of tripling the size of the sector in Australia to $12 billion and adding an extra 20,000 jobs by 2030," Minister Andrews said at the launch.
"But beyond that space will create opportunities for core industries — from manufacturing to mining — to tap into new supply chains."
We've contacted the Space Industry Association of Australia to ask what it thinks of this investment and its potential impact on the industry. We'll update when it responds.
What will the Australian Space Agency do?
The agency will mostly be in charge of providing policy advice and space activity legislation, rather than launching Australian space missions, with it stating its primary purposes include:
- providing national policy and strategic advice on the civil space sector
- coordinating Australia’s domestic civil space sector activities
- supporting the growth of Australia’s space industry and the use of space across the broader economy
- leading international civil space engagement
- administering space activities legislation and delivering on our international obligations
- inspiring the Australian community and the next generation of space entrepreneurs
Australia's involvement in the mission, which attempts to see NASA encourage exploration of the Moon and Mars, is not fully known aside from the announced financial commitment. The agency launched a number of consultation sessions around the country throughout February and March to get feedback and input on how the investment can help Australian companies with space ambitions.
In 2021, the agency's head Dr Megan Clark said it also plans to open up its site to the public for educational purposes.
"What will be unusual is the mission control will be right here and we will have glass at the back so people can come in off the street and see what we are doing," Dr Clark said at the launch.
"We want kids and people to be able to see what's happening on the lunar surface, to be able to see what's happening in real time on the lunar orbiter, and eventually to be able to come and say 'I wonder what's happening on Mars today', and come in and see people in action.
"I think that will inspire them to take up jobs, maybe try a little bit harder in their maths and English and try and get those jobs."
Why Is Australia's Space Agency In South Australia?
States and territories were made to pitch for the agency headquarters but ultimately, South Australia was found to have a higher density of space-related organisations in the area. It's likely due to Adelaide's relative proximity to desert regions, which are primed for observing space.
"Work undertaken in 2018 showed that South Australia is home to 70 space-related organisations, companies and educational institutes with a workforce of over 800 and already active in the industry and working on remarkable challenges," Morrison said in his address to the agency's forum.
"To give an example, the government is investing to establish a world-class satellite positioning capability in Australia. The new [GPS satellite] system will deliver accuracy of within three centimetres."
During the announcement back in 2018, the state's history and contributions to Australia's space aspirations was also pointed out as making sense, according to an ABC report.
"Our very first satellite was launched into space from Woomera just over half a century ago, so South Australia has demonstrated a very long history in space," Minister Andrews said at the time.
"Having the space agency headquartered here in Adelaide means that South Australia will certainly have a great opportunity to be a major contributor."
Fireballs are quite rare with only a handful ever being observed. But in the South Australian desert, one of only two fireballs ever observed as falling into the Earth and Moon's gravitational system was spotted. Dr Ellie Sansom from Curtin University told Gizmodo Australia about the unicorn event and why the region is one of the best places in the world to observe them.
Did Australia have a space agency before?
Australia had a former space agency for seven years, but it was made defunct in 1996 by the Howard Government. The Australian Space Office was created in 1987 in order to oversee the National Space Program — a policy initiative set by the Keating Government. It was the first time a dedicated office would oversee a clear set of space policy.
Sadly, the initiative was considered a failure and its 1996 demise was blamed on a "lack of government commitment."
Hopefully, this space era sticks around a little longer.