Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Yes, Australia will have a space agency. What does this mean? Experts respond

By Andrew Dempster, Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Tel

A space agency will allow Australia to sit at the table with NASA, ESA and other global agencies. from www.shutterstock.com

In front of an expectant audience of more than 4,000 international delegates attending the International Aeronautical Congress in Adelaide, today Senator Simon Birmingham - representing Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos – announced Australia’s federal government is committed to a space agency.

Although details on timelines, funding and practicalities are yet to be described, here three experts address the question of how an Australian space agency will support the sector.


Andrew Dempster (Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research UNSW)

This announcement has the potential to be monumental, and great reward for people (including me) who have fought for an agency for many years.

Interestingly, the announcement preempts the report of the government’s Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability, which is due in March. The roundtable events in support of this review have resoundingly supported establishment of an agency, with most of the effort dedicated to its role and structure.

We are still awaiting detail of how such an agency would look. What is critical is that the agency is not simply a replica of the earlier Space Policy Unit, and Space Coordination Office. These were small offices primarily focused on policy and the workings of government.

The real opportunity an agency offers is the growth of the local industry to the point where it is sustainable and can deliver big projects – Australian solutions to Australian problems: i.e. it is about Australian sovereignty.

To be successful in that regard, commitment to a space agency cannot be halfhearted. It must be resourced with the right quality and quantity of people to deliver a vibrant Australian industry.

Once that is achieved, and the benefits become obvious, we’ll all be asking why we didn’t do it decades ago.


Graziella Caprarelli (Associate Professor in space science, UniSA)

Details about the structure and brief of the announced future National Space Agency are not known at present. Ideally, an Australian space agency should oversee the coordination and development of the entire space supply chain.

Right now, the quality and impact of Australian space research is demonstrably well above the size of its scientific and aerospace engineering community. This fertile scientific and technological environment has encouraged many young startups revolving around space technology and space data.

Access to space is therefore crucial to ensure the sustainable growth of this nascent industry. This can only happen under the purview of a dedicated Australian agency, tasked with the coordination of all civilian space related activities in the country, with the delegation to allocate and distribute resources, and to represent and facilitate Australian interests internationally.

The present focus is on the many possibilities of economic growth and industrial development. But the long-term sustainability of a space industry in Australia will critically depend on the availability of local talent, steady supply of expertise, and the manufacturing and technical skills required to bring Australia to space.

This requires strong and continued support for STEM education, investment in space science and technology, research and training. An Australian space agency would therefore be responsible for all space-related activities.

There may be concerns that such portfolio may require the institution of a new giant bureaucracy. This need not be so, if the future agency is structured in a way that captures the expertise of the many groups and individuals already working in space-related fields all over Australia.


Duncan Blake, PhD candidate (Law and military uses of outer space, University of Adelaide)

This announcement is exciting not just for Australian space industry, but also for future generations in Australia and for the global space industry. Michael Davis, Brett Biddington and others – who are responsible for bringing the International Aeronautical Congress to Australia – have shown that industry can and will lead.

Australia rates very highly in space startups per capita: these are not big, multinational companies, but small enterprises making an disproportionate contribution in niche areas.

The Australian space agency will have a regulatory role, obviously, but it needs to do what the industry can’t do for itself. It needs to represent the Australian people at home and abroad, it needs to pursue Australia’s interests in global space governance bodies, it needs to not only help seize opportunities for Australia but actually create opportunities and it needs to be a focal point internally and externally.

Perhaps most importantly, it needs to facilitate collaboration by the many government agencies, plus the academic, research and other civil institutions and the growing number of commercial enterprises involved in space in Australia.

It also needs a strategy that identifies some enduring, national “beacon” projects to muster the immense energy in the Australian space industry right now and which will herald our place in space. This, and more, is what we hope to hear about in the next few days, or at most, months.

The Conversation

Andrew Dempster receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Duncan Blake is a member of the Space Industry Association of Australia and provides consultancy services in space law and strategy for International Aerospace Law and Policy Group.

Graziella Caprarelli does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.


Originally published in The Conversation.