Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Lift-off for Space Agency

By Ian Lowe

The re-establishment of an Australian space agency is expected to generate billions of dollars after decades of neglect of the sector.

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Australia is at last going to have its space agency restored. The decision was announced at a major international conference in Adelaide in September. Scientists working in space-related areas greeted the announcement with unanimous enthusiasm after governments had been missing in action for more than 20 years.

The Australian Space Office was set up in 1987, when Barry Jones was Science Minister. It had a modest annual budget of $5 million, but there were big space projects under consideration at the time: restoring Woomera’s capacity to launch rockets, or building a massive space port on Cape York. Prime Minister John Howard closed the Space Office when he was elected in 1996, a move showing he had neither vision nor respect for science. Twelve years later, a parliamentary committee said it was no longer acceptable for Australia to be “lost in space” yet nothing happened.

The current industry minister, Arthur Sinodinos, appointed former CSIRO chief Dr Megan Clarke to conduct another inquiry. It is due to report next March, but the international conference put pressure on the government to act. Critics pointed out that Iceland was the only other OECD country without a space agency. Barry Jones was more direct, noting that New Zealand has one, as do Peru and Nicaragua!

So the Turnbull government rushed to make an announcement to the conference. One...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.