The federal government is reviewing legislation to reform the Space Activities Act 1998. The reform is set to modernise Australian policy to ensure “Australia’s space regulation is appropriate to technology advancements and does not unnecessarily inhibit innovation in Australia’s space capabilities”.
One outcome of this reform process must be a dedicated Australian Space Agency.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen exciting developments in the Australasian space sector with the likes of my business, Fleet, and Gilmour Space Technologies, receiving significant early-stage investment. There was also the well-publicised Rocket Lab launch in New Zealand last month. New Zealand, unlike Australia, now has a small space agency, and the RocketLab launch was possible only because of government regulation, support and investment.
The space industry in Australia is significant. The Space Industry Association of Australia estimates the sector employs about 11,000 people, and is worth about $4 billion a year.
We already play a notable role in the space exploration of other countries: from NASA’s deep space tracking facility at Tidbinbilla in Canberra, to the European Space Agency’s New Norcia in Western Australia, the Square Kilometre Array, a huge radio telescope project set to be built in Australia and South Africa in 2018, and our countless satellite dishes pinging messages from all corners of the solar system. We are a perfectly positioned nation to explore the final frontier.
Many businesses in the industry will survive with or without a dedicated space agency, but they rely purely on private-sector or overseas funding. Others may not — many space tech start-ups simply can’t afford to stay in Australia as they face impossibly competitive challenges against foreign businesses already backed by major agencies.
If they can’t afford to stay, several will leave and plant roots where they can receive government support and funding. This migration has already stripped Australia of locally led innovation, including the brilliant talent and economic value it fosters, such as the jobs that come with the creation of new industries and technologies.
Yet the issue at stake isn’t funding, though a government-led commitment would certainly help. The issue is the absence of a coherent strategy that promotes our national goals and engages Australia in the establishment of global space protocols.
An Australian space agency would enable a strategy for a complex and currently fractured industry. It would unite our space goals with that of the world, foster collaboration between nations, and spur on innovation that will serve tomorrow’s businesses — in addition to greater exploration and study of the universe.
This is a necessity. The next industrial revolution is going to start in space. Emerging space technologies and the data they return will usher in mass-scale efficiencies back here on Earth.
While in its infancy, we are already witnessing the birth of a new space era; one defined now by small, scalable technologies and agile mindsets. It is a sector up for grabs, but not for long. Once it clicks into gear, the world’s biggest economic drivers will depend on those who fuel our flight to the stars.
Flavia Tata Nardini is co-founder and chief executive of Fleet.
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