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International space congress in Adelaide crucial in shaping Australian Space Industry debate

Space Industry

All eyes on South Australia as the nation’s space industry future unfolds.

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International Astronautical Congress

PROPONENTS of a campaign for an Australian Space Agency will use the year’s biggest international space meeting in Adelaide next month to shape the discussion

The Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) launched a White Paper in March calling on the Australian Government to establish a national space agency.

Australia remains one of the few OECD nations without a national space program or agency despite having a long history in the industry.

The SIAA had hoped for an announcement just before or during next month’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in the South Australian capital Adelaide.

However, the announcement last month of a Federal Government review into the long-term plan for the sector in Australia, which will not be complete until March means any meaningful pledge of an Australian Space Agency is unlikely at next month’s congress.

SIAA secretary Peter Nikoloff said winning the congress renewed debate about Australia’s future in the space industry.

“That’s why we released our paper to try and help the government with ideas and concepts of strong leadership for space in Australia,” he said.

“We were disappointed they had this review panel starting at a fairly late date with final results not reported until next year.

“But indications are that they do want to announce something at the conference so there’s still a chance of having some positive steps happening in the timeframe.”

The Australian space sector currently produces annual revenues of up to AU$4 billion and employs between 9,500 and 11,500 people from its 0.8 per cent share of the global space economy, which is estimated to be worth $420 billion.

The 68th IAC conference in Adelaide is expected to attract up to 4000 delegates from around the globe including the heads of all the major space agencies and Space X founder and CEO Elon Musk.

Nikoloff, who is also co-founder of Nova Systems in South Australia and a member of the IAC local organising committee, said the SIAA would now shift its focus towards the congress and making sure the issues of an Australian Space Agency were included in discussions.

“There’s certainly going to be plenty of side meetings and events at the Congress that the Space Industry Association will be involved in with the state and federal governments so we’ll be doing as much as we can to make sure the appropriate players are getting together and discussions are happening,” he said.

“After the big opening ceremony there’s a huge panel with all those space agencies and the heads each talk about what’s happened over the past 12 months and what the plans are for the next year and they have a bit of a question time so that’s another good opportunity and hopefully a lot of the senior government people stay around.

“The whole issue of the space agency is front and centre – the media is talking about it, the state governments are onto it.”

The Federal Government review panel is chaired by former CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark and includes SIAA Chair Michael Davis.

The Expert Reference Group (ERG) issued a discussion paper last week while inviting industry and all areas of government and society to contribute written submissions by 22 August. The purpose of the paper is to kick start the process. A series of ’roundtables’ will be held in each capital in the coming month.

The SIAA has not been a lone voice of support for a national space agency in Australia.

The South Australian Government last month said it would set up its own space agency this year if swift action was not taken at a federal level.

The SA Government this week announced it had joined forces with the ACT Government to lobby for the space industry.

South Australia has a long space history, which started when the Woomera Test Range was established in 1947 about 450km north of Adelaide.

The outback range is still used and last year launched an experimental rocket flight as part of a joint research program, HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation Program).

In October 2016, South Australia and the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) agreed to jointly pursue space-related industries.

There are at least 60 South Australian organisations with space-related expertise and 11 local space start-ups, including Myriota, Fleet Space Technologies, Inovor Technologies and Neumann Space.

Fleet co-founder and former European Space Agency rocket scientist Flavia Tata Nardini wrote an open letter to the Federal Government in June pushing for a national space agency.

“An Australian space agency would enable a strategy for a complex and currently fractured industry,” she wrote.

“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.”

Adelaide-born astronaut Andy Thomas wrote to Australian Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne in April saying it was “staggering” Australia contributed less than 1 per cent to the global space industry.

“We are missing out on a rich opportunity for innovation, employment and accessing potential export markets,” Thomas wrote.

“We need a national agency that speaks for the country and with ministerial authority.”

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