Coordination framework essential to the success of an Australian space agency

September 27, 2017

Leading scientists say bringing together the space industry under a strategic coordination framework must be the first order of business upon the establishment of a home-grown space agency.

The conclusion forms part of the Australian Academy of Science’s Vision for Space Science and Technology in Australia, launched today at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC2017) in Adelaide.

Professor Fred Menk, Chair of the Academy’s National Committee for Space and Radio Science, which compiled the vision statement, said much of the recent public discussion has focused on whether Australia should have a space agency.

“We certainly envisage a future—by 2027 or sooner—in which Australia will have a vibrant space sector and space industry, underpinned by a national space agency. Establishing a coordination framework for space science and technology in Australia must be a first order priority for our space agency,” Professor Menk said.

“Australia has already developed many of the ingredients required to reap the benefits of a space industry—indeed, some areas are excelling. Substantial progress has also already been made within and between some organisations including the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia and the Department of Defence.”

“However, these contributors, including the smaller actors and organisations, do not yet form a cohesive and unified sector that is able to provide the full depth and breadth of rigour necessary to underpin operational sovereign space capabilities. They must be nurtured and grown in strategically prioritised and assisted ways. A key missing ingredient is a national space coordination framework,” Professor Menk said.

Professor Menk said Australia’s space industry is currently fragmented and comparatively small relative to opportunity.

“This is exposing scientific and technical gaps that are inconsistent with our sovereign interests,” Professor Menk said.

The vision statement cites the Chinese-based International Space Weather Meridian Circle Program, as an example. The program is proposing to establish space-based weather measurement instruments along the 120E/60W meridian, which passes through Australia and Antarctica, in order to provide a global picture of unfolding space weather events.

“The lack of a national coordination framework for space weather activities impacts on Australia’s engagement with and capacity to respond to strategic programs such as this one,” Professor Menk said.

“A national framework, advised by an expert panel, would provide coordination, priority setting, and a degree of strategic funding, to assist the Australian space sector to mature and flourish.

“A comprehensive earth systems science approach to the observation of the Australian continent, the Southern Ocean and the Southern Hemisphere will enable Australia to deliver good science policy and practice in a region where we are regarded as the custodians,” Professor Menk said.

The vision statement suggests priorities for the Australian space sector could include leading the development of CubeSats as a national capability, understanding and managing the impacts of space weather and tracking and managing space junk.

“With the right policy support Australia can mobilise the sector to create a significant space industry, based on innovative and niche products, in a relatively short time,” Professor Menk said.

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