Shorten in space

| March 17, 2018

In the wake of the Coalition’s plans for a Federal Space Agency, the Labor Party has also pledged to establish an Australian Space Science and Industry Agency with a mandate to double the size of the Australian space industry if it should return to power.

The proposed agency will aim to grow the industry by ten thousand new jobs in areas such as research, earth observation, space technologies and advanced manufacturing.

Labor’s Australian Space Science & Industry Agency would work to improve intra and inter-governmental co-ordination of Australian assets in space, create opportunities for Australian space industry companies and enhance Australia’s space science capabilities.

In addition a Shorten Labor Government will invest in developing the Australian space industry through establishing with industry and universities, four research hubs and two training centres.

A Shorten Labor Government would also establish a Space Innovation Council and a Space Industry Supplier Advocate, reflecting the party’s professed commitment to harnessing the power of innovation, science and research to boost economic growth.

The Space Industry Innovation Council will serve as an advisory board for the agency, develop an industry wide agenda, and build international confidence, while the Space Industry Supplier Advocate would open up opportunities for space industry companies and attract investment and jobs.

Labor has set an aspiration for Australia to devote 3 per cent of GDP to research and development by 2030. However, achieving this will require governments, universities, research organisations and industry to work together.

Why is an agency needed?

There is a new space race and Australia is lagging at the back of the field. Countries and companies are competing for a share of the rapidly growing space economy.

In Australia we have companies – big and small – ready to make their mark, and we have the people and the science ready to move the nation forward. Globally, commercial space activities are growing by almost 10 per cent annually and now represent 76 per cent of the $420 billion global space economy. Australia’s share of it is only 0.8 per cent.

Our space sector is small, but the opportunities are limitless. At the moment the sector earns revenues of $3-4 billion per year and employs between 9,500 and 11,500 people.

However, according to the Space Industry Association of Australia, “…there is an opportunity to double this within five years – if the Australian Government is prepared to commit to the establishment of an Australian Space Agency to lead a cohesive national space strategy”.

The cost of doing nothing

Australia is one of the most space dependent nations on earth. Without access to satellites and other space-based applications much of our economy and critical national infrastructure could grind to a halt. We have a high degree of dependence on space-based applications in our everyday lives, for things like:

• Supermarkets provide fresh fruit and vegetables by using satellite navigation in their delivery fleet to optimise just-in-time deliveries.

• ATMs and other credit card applications authorisation process rely on very accurate timing synchronisation to prevent fraud. This depends on satellite time transfer.

• Food prices depend on crop yields, which rely on satellite-optimised flood irrigation. Satellite levelling is progressively allowing higher crop yields and lower food prices.

• Cell phones use dedicated radio frequency links to send digital data packets of conversation around the world, but re-building these data packets into conversations requires synchronisation, which comes from satellite time transfer.

• Responses to civil emergencies rely on specialised satellite imagery and communications because electrical power, cell phone towers and cables can all be damaged by natural disasters like bushfires, floods etc.

• Adaption to climate change relies on space data. Australia has excellent space infrastructure monitoring, for example, the first signs of sea level change.

• Transport is being revolutionised today by artificial intelligence and autonomous and driverless vehicles relying on satellite navigation enhancements, which now provide real-time navigation that is accurate to within 25cm of the destination.

Australia has the science, technology, infrastructure and skills to punch significantly above its weight in the global space industry. Australia has highly regarded capabilities in astronomy − both optical and radio – yet no equivalent is to be found in other space technologies.

Space is of great importance to modern life and the costs of accessing space are falling rapidly. Advances in technology have enabled the development of very small satellites and lower-cost launches with the ability to carry multiple satellites into space.

As a result, we are seeing a significant increase in the number of commercial satellites being launched and a continued reduction in the average satellite mass. A key driver of this is the growing popularity of nano/microsatellites less than 50kg for civil and commercial use.

It has become clear that we have to rapidly build our capabilities in space to capitalise on the emerging economic opportunities, advance our interests, and manage international relationships and obligations.

The Australian Academy of Science has called for policies that will, “support fundamental sciences and related fields… [and] grow the supply of highly trained workers, allowing the expansion of innovation industries.”

State governments are unilaterally seizing opportunities and developing their own capabilities. They are looking to the Commonwealth to provide national leadership and coordination.

What will Labor do?

A Shorten Labor Government will establish the Australia Space Science & Industry Agency from 2020, within the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

The Agency will be responsible for the $173.9 million contribution to landmark international space initiatives like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The agency will have a mandate over civil space activities to develop a strategic plan and help facilitate the growth of the Australian space sector and Australian space capabilities.

The key tasks of the agency will be to provide leadership and co-ordination for the Australian space sector, to drive economic growth and to build Australian capabilities in space science. In addition to the agency, a Shorten Labor Government will establish an Australian Space Industry Program to encourage the development of the Australian space industry.

This program will run on a co-investment basis and the Australian Research Council will invest up to $18.5 million, with additional funding from industry and university consortiums.

The Program will consist of:

• Four Industrial Transformation Research Hubs, to advance research capabilities in emerging areas of industry focused space research and technology

• Two Industrial Training Centres offering 25 PhDs awarded on the basis of competitive bids from universities working in collaboration with industrial partners to establish industrial PhDs.

Labor will prioritise applications from consortiums in the areas of:

• Space Systems e.g. designing, building, manufacturing, operating components and systems that are based in space

• Launch activities and support services including the designing, building, manufacturing, operating equipment and services related to the launch of satellites into space

• Designing, building, manufacturing, and operating ground systems

• Space enabled services and applications such as designing, building, manufacturing, operating equipment and services related applications that require the data or services from space based systems or components.