Open letter to the Australian Government: why Australia can no longer afford not to have a space agency

Adelaide, South Australia, 13 June 2017

The Federal Government is in the midst of reviewing legislation to reform the Space Activities Act 1998. The reform is set to modernise Australian policy to ensure that “Australia’s space regulation is appropriate to technology advancements and does not unnecessarily inhibit innovation in Australia’s space capabilities”.

This is an important shift in attitude that outlines the possibility that the Federal Government is now focusing on areas of growth for our economy through innovation.

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 only possible due to government regulation, support and investment.

The space industry in Australia isn’t insignificant: The Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) estimates that the sector employs around 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 (ESA) 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 startups 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 a national, 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 will unite our space goals with that of the world’s, 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 as the next industrial revolution is going to start in space. Emerging space technologies and the data they return will usher in mass-scale efficiencies here on earth, shifting industries like mining, logistics, technology, farming, mobility, connectivity, and environmental care, for good.

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 it to grow.  

If Australia doesn’t stake an official position in the sky, we’ll fall behind other developed countries in the innovation race. Our future prosperity is at risk. We must support, harness, and drive the incredible talent and innovative spirit of Australian aerospace forward.

We can help shape the jobs, businesses, and industries of tomorrow if we take the budding space economy, and our position in it, seriously. The foundations a national space agency will lay, will enable our nation to continue to prosper in the next 20 to 50 years.

Australia’s economy, our credibility on the international stage, and our status as an innovation nation, all hang in the balance. I call on the Australian Government to secure our place in the future and the stars by making an Australian Space Agency a reality.
 

Flavia Tata Nardini
Chief Executive Officer
Fleet Space Technologies