Australia Plans to Establish National Space Agency

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Simon Birmingham, Australia’s Minister of Education, officially declared the federal government’s intention to establish a national space agency at the sixty-eighth International Astronautical Conference in Adelaide on September 25.

Foreshadowing this latest move, the government had convened a panel of experts on July 13 to review the status of Australia’s domestic space industry. Crucially, the government also tasked the panel with developing a plan for further expanding the sector.

The announcement serves as a response to increasing calls for Australia to capitalize on the $300 billion global space industry.

“The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement,” Senator Michaelia Cash said in a statement, reinforcing the idea that both aspects factored into the administration’s decision.

Historically, Australia once was at the forefront of many space-related developments. In 1967, it became the third nation to locally construct and launch a satellite into space, preceded only by the United States and the Soviet Union. This coming November marks the fiftieth anniversary of the iconic sendoff of Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT.

Since the end of the Space Race, however, Australia’s space industry has largely fallen behind those of other developed countries. The opposing Labor Party has criticized Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s administration over its lack of strong leadership on this front up until now.

Labor Senator Kim Carr, for instance, pointed out that Australia is the only member of the international OECD coalition apart from Iceland to not have its own space program.

Over the past two months, the governments of South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory have also joined forces to advocate for a national space agency, going so far as to sign a memorandum of agreement to underscore their partnership.

Their lobbying efforts culminated on September 21, with South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s announcement of the creation of the South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC).

“SASIC will deliver opportunities for manufacturers to transition to a high growth sector, enable startups to flourish, and create jobs of the future,” said Weatherill.

Now that the federal government has committed to launching a national space agency, it is anticipated that an expert panel will develop and present a long-term strategy and a charter for the agency by the end of March 2018.