Thunderbirds are go

Business has been called upon to work collaboratively in the race for better space technology, with the announcement of Australia’s first Space Agency.

Australia accounts for just 0.8 per cent of the $457 billion global space economy, which is growing at about 10 per cent per year.

WA businesses will be amongst the many bidding for lucrative contracts to help Australia gain a greater share of the multi-billion-dollar global space market.

It’s estimated the $41 million Australia Space Agency would create 20,000 jobs nationwide and triple Australia’s space output to about $12b by 2030.

Western Australia is home to major commercial and defence space facilities and research ground stations. WA also has 65 international radio astronomy collaborations and the Pawsey Supercomputer for space-related data.

As well, it hosts partnerships that are developing robotics for use in space and in industry  management of remote assets, and global companies, such as Woodside’s trial of a NASA-built ‘robonaut’.

Australia itself is already a world-leader in automated mining and precision agriculture but in WA the lack of a military-specific road – a satellite monitored road where sensitive equipment can be transported securely – may impede the State’s space chase.

Former CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark will lead the agency, which will open in Canberra on July 1, until “the most strategic location” for the agency can be determined, with calls for it to be based in WA.

Addressing a CCI forum earlier this month, WA Senator Slade Brockman urged WA business to work together to achieve the strategically important road.

“We’re remote, nothing will be delivered to us on a plate. We have to go out to get it,” Brockman said.

Releasing the Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability in Perth on Wednesday, Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash said the Government would invest more than $260m to develop world-leading core satellite infrastructure and technologies, including better GPS for business and regional Australia, and improved access to satellite imagery.

“Space technologies are not just about taking people to the moon, they open up opportunities for many industries, including communications, agriculture, mining, oil and gas,” Cash said.

“Through our $300m investment in space industry and technology, the Turnbull Government is allowing businesses across the economy to prosper, enter new markets and create jobs.”

Report rallies business 

The report calls on industry to lead a collaborative research and development approach to bridging the gap between spaceflight research and spaceflight products and services.

It also urges improved access for Australian companies to international customers and supply chains and calls for recognition that national innovation and education strategies are relevant to space.

The State Budget included $3m to kick-start WA’s STEM Strategy – a strategy focused on enhancing competency across four specific disciplines.

A STEM advisory panel chaired by the Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken and including CCI representatives, was charged with mapping a STEM workforce, highlighting strengths and gaps in skills and expertise.

It also identified STEM growth industries, with a vision to grow the local workforce.

Statistics reveal that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills.

Key business recommendations

The space capability report also recommended:

  • Improved access for Australian companies to international customers and supply chains
  • Using the purchasing power of Government by emulating the work of Australian Defence Force programs and the US’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, to link large and small business to the purchasing needs of civil space-related government projects and investments in space
  • Increasing industry access to shared satellite and space equipment testing facilities, and ground station infrastructure
  • Easing regulatory approvals for launch and operation in space, and clarifying Australian Government requirements and obligations
  • Linking start-up and early stage Australian space companies to national and international providers of venture capital.

Read the Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability here.

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