Space and Radio Science News and Opportunities—November 2021

Space and Radio Science News and Opportunities

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News from the National Committee

For the past 18 months, the National Committee for Space and Radio Science (NCSRS) has been developing Australia in Space, a new 10-year plan for Australian space science, due for publication in late 2021. Several rounds of public and solicited consultation have taken place during the drafting of the report. Meanwhile, the committee has been working on several other initiatives, summarised below. This newsletter also includes a report on the recent URSI General Assembly from NCSRS Deputy Chair, Professor Paul Smith.

RRI Report: Space Industry and the STEM Workforce

With input from members of the NCSRS, a Rapid Response Information Report was provided to the Australian Government via Australia’s Chief Scientist on the Space Industry and the STEM Workforce. The report addresses the question: ‘What are the growth areas in domestic STEM skills to support jobs in the space industry, and how can these be addressed by the tertiary (university and relevant VET) sector?’

Conversations in space mentoring program

Conversations in space is a pilot mentoring program designed to support career development for postgraduate students and early-career researchers, spanning academia and industry. An initiative of the NCSRS, supported by the Theo Murphy Initiative (Australia) and the Australian Academy of Science, the program will develop a sustainable mentoring program that supports career development and collaboration across the space sector. Applications have now closed. Outcomes for the program will be announced in early November 2021.


URSI update

Professor Paul D Smith, Deputy Chair, NCSRS

The XXXIVth General Assembly and Scientific Symposium (GASS) of the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) was held in Rome from 28 August to 4 September 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this triennial flagship meeting had been postponed in 2020 and was held this year in hybrid format, with about 400 attendees in person at the Sapienza University of Rome and a further 800 participants online. The program comprised scientific sessions and invited lectures organised by each of the 10 commissions of URSI, as well as joint inter-commission sessions and three lectures of wide interest to the community. Although usually presented at the GASS opening ceremony, the URSI awards acknowledging scientific achievement in radio science were announced in 2020. The local organisers expertly managed the complexities of coordinating online and in-person participation in the sessions, enabling interaction between speakers and audience that is expected at such meetings. However, differences in time zones meant that extremely late nights were unavoidable for Australian participants! The general assembly ended with a very interesting public lecture of some recent discoveries about Guglielmo Marconi’s contributions.

There were notable Australian contributions of about 40 papers, mostly in Commissions J (Radio Astronomy) and B (Fields and Waves). These included four Commission B sessions organised by Professor Paul Smith (3) and Distinguished Professor Karu Esselle (1), a Commission J session by Dr Douglas Bock (who is the current Commission chair), and a joint Commission E-C-J session by Dr Tasso Tzioumis. Also notable was Professor Rodney Croft’s invitation to present the Commission K tutorial on radiofrequency electromagnetic field human exposure limitations.

The URSI Council held four meetings over the week. These were concerned with election of new board members for the next triennium, the organisation of future meetings, publications, communication with other scientific unions and other matters. Distinguished Professor Emeritus Piergiorgio (George) Uslenghi (University of Illinois Chicago, US) was elected president and the following four vice-presidents were elected: Patricia Doherty (Boston College, US), Dr Kazuya Kobayashi (Chuo University, Japan), Professor Giuliano Manara (Pisa University, Italy), and Professor Ari Sihvola (Aalto University, Finland). The secretary-general Professor Peter van Daele (Ghent University, Belgium) was re-elected unopposed. Each commission also held meetings to elect the chairs, vice-chairs and early-career researcher representatives, as well as planning for upcoming commission-sponsored scientific meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted the usual schedule of the triennial Atlantic Radio Science (AT-RASC) and Asia-Pacific Radio Science (AP-RASC) meetings. It was decided to combine these two URSI flagship meetings (normally held in separate years) into one joint meeting: AT-AP-RASC in Gran Canaria, Spain, from 30 May to 4 June 2022. Paper submission will open shortly. The next GASS will be held in Sapporo, Japan, from 19 to 26 August 2023, and the AP-RASC meeting originally scheduled to be held in Sydney in 2022 will now take place there in 2025.

Space news

Submission to parliamentary inquiry

The parliamentary inquiry into the space industry has been meeting since early this year, holding public hearings to interview key stakeholder witnesses. The Academy and NCSRS provided two submissions, the first in February and a supplementary submission in October, taking into account discussions around the decadal plan for space science. All non-confidential submissions to the inquiry and all hearings are public. The NCSRS submission (via the Academy) is number 70.

Read the submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the space industry

A DARPA scheme for Australia?

The influential think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) recently published a special report titled An Australian DARPA to turbocharge universities’ national security research. The authors are Dr Robert Clarke AO (former Chief Defence Scientist) and Peter Jennings (Executive Director of ASPI). If the proposed scheme were implemented it would significantly impact university research and its funding, especially for space and radio sciences.

Relocation of BOM’s Space Weather Service

The Bureau of Meteorology will open a new Space Weather Hub at Adelaide’s Lot Fourteen in 2022, according to a joint media release on 5 October 2021 by the Hon Sussan Ley MP, federal Minister for the Environment, and the Hon Steven Marshall MP, Premier of South Australia. This means that the Space Weather Service (SWS) will relocate from Sydney to Adelaide, where it will be co-located with the Australian Space Agency and space companies. An external review of the SWS in 2014 found that it is ‘in the top tier of global space weather centres and arguably preeminent in ionospheric high frequency space weather services’. The SWS operates observational infrastructure across Australia and is also responsible for the World Data Centre for Space Weather as a member of the International Science Council’s World Data System. It is hoped that relocation of the SWS to Adelaide is part of a strategy to grow the capabilities of this vital service.

For more information on space weather, see this brief YouTube clip promoting the role of women in the space sector.

Australian rover to go to the Moon

Australia is partnering with NASA to develop a small semi-autonomous lunar rover, the Australian Government announced on 13 October 2021. The ‘foundation services rover’, weighing up to 20 kg, will be able to pick up lunar soil and deliver it to a commercial lunar lander operated by NASA. NASA will fly the rover to the Moon as early as 2026, provided it meets a range of conditions. The initiative will be supported by Australian Government funding of up to $50 million through the Trailblazer program, as part of its Moon to Mars initiative, with details due to be released later this year. According to NASA, ‘the Australian rover offers a second means of collection and increases the overall chances of a successful demonstration’ of lunar soil collection. 

Australian CubeSat space missions

Two Australian CubeSats were part of the payload launched aboard the Space-X Falcon 9 SpX-23 rocket to the International Space Station on 20 August 2021. The two satellites are: CUAVA-1, developed by the University of Sydney’s ARC Training Centre for CubeSats, UAVs & Their Applications; and Binar-1, developed by Curtin University’s Space Science and Technology Centre. Both CubeSats are technology development and test vehicles: Binar-1 for Australian capability in solar system exploration, and CUAVA-1 for space science research. Both satellites were deployed from the International Space Station on 12 October.

Meanwhile, the M2 mission, developed by the Space Centre at UNSW Canberra, achieved a world first. Launched by Rocket Lab in New Zealand in March 2021, M2 comprises two conjoined CubeSats that underwent a controlled separation on 10 September. The two spacecraft are testing satellite separation mechanisms and dynamic controlled flying via deployable solar panels that vary drag. M2 also carries neuromorphic cameras developed by Western Sydney University, designed for tracking small, fast objects. The UNSW team has issued a certificate of divorce to ‘certify’the separation of M2A (Alice) and M2B (Bob) ‘due to irreconcilable differences’.

More satellites!

India will launch 75 satellites into space to mark its 75th Independence Day on 15 August 2022, announced the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. All of the satellites will be built by students of Indian universities, colleges and schools. The overall objective is to develop a satellite network to improve communications efficiency.


The announcement of an enhanced trilateral security partnership, AUKUS, between Australia, the US and the UK, builds on the longstanding bilateral ties between the three countries. AUKUS will more deeply integrate defence and security-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains. The partnership is expected to deepen Australia-US collaboration on space technology, providing a boost to Australia’s space capabilities.

UK’s defence of space-based assets

The UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has released a POSTnote providing an overview of defence and space-based assets. This recognises space-based assets as a part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, important to civilian and military activities. The POSTnote outlines how the UK uses and accesses satellites, potential risks to satellites and approaches to mitigation of these risks.

Azure Space takes off in Australia

Azure Space has achieved lift off in Australia, with the aim of streamlining and simplifying access to space data and technology. Microsoft Azure provides access to data analytics tools and artificial intelligence that, when combined with space data, provides insights into Australia’s geography that are particularly valuable for mining, agriculture, and defence and emergency responses.

Events and opportunities

4th Symposium on Space Educational Activities

The 4th Symposium on Space Educational Activities (SSEA), a European Space Agency-led congress, will be hosted by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech in Barcelona, Spain, from 27 to 29 April 2022. The call for abstracts is open until 10 November 2021.

Find out more and register to attend

IEEE Aerospace Conference

The 43rd IEEE Aerospace Conference will be held in Montana, US, from 5 to 12 March 2022. This international conference promotes interdisciplinary discussion and understanding of aerospace systems, including the underlying science and technology as well as applications. Papers are peer reviewed and published in the proceedings.

AGU Fall Meeting

The annual American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting is the largest gathering of Earth and space scientists worldwide. Normally held in San Francisco, this year the Fall Meeting will be in New Orleans with an online attendance option, from 13 to 17 December. Over 25,000 scientists from more than 100 countries are expected to attend. This year’s theme is ‘science is society’.

SCOSTEP online seminars

The Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics (SCOSTEP) is responsible for major international scientific programs and symposia. It is hosting online seminars related to its PRESTO (Predictability of Solar-Terrestrial Coupling) program.

For more information see the PRESTO homepage

International Space Science Institute seminars

The International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland, hosts international workshops that you can apply for. They also run a series of ‘Game Changer’ online seminars that highlight key pivotal topics and discoveries in space science and astronomy.

Visit the institute’s website for more information

Avalon 2021

The biennial Avalon International Airshow is the most comprehensive aviation, aerospace and defence exposition in the southern hemisphere. Sadly, Avalon 2021 will not proceed due to the ongoing pandemic, however Airshow 2023 will take place between 28 February and 5 March 2023.

Australian Space Forum

Hosted by the Andy Thomas Foundation, the Australian Space Forum is a bi-annual event held in Adelaide that brings together the space industry sector for a one-day meeting and workshops. The 12th Space Forum was attended by over 700 delegates on 15 September, and the 13th forum will be held on 3 March 2022.

Past event: Making space for social sciences

A series of nine webinars convened by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia during August 2021 brought together experts and practitioners to discuss the implications and opportunities for the social sciences in space. Social scientists, industry partners and commercial practitioners discussed a range of issues as part of the series, titled Australia’s future in space: An emerging agenda for the social sciences, The conversations were framed with a view to developing a community of interest among social scientists and a program of research that will take Australian scholarship forward in this rapidly expanding field.

Watch the webinar series: Australia’s future in space: An emerging agenda for the social sciences online

Academy news


Australia’s digital future: a nation of users or leaders?

The Academy’s National Committee for Information and Communication Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering have released a policy primer, Australia’s Digital Future – A nation of users or leaders? The primer calls on the Australian Government to make emerging digital technologies a national science and innovation priority, to allow Australia to keep up with other nations that are prioritising digital technologies and bolstering their competitiveness in the emerging digital economy.

Read more about Australia’s Digital Future – A nation of users or leaders?


Harnessing data for research

The Academy has recently released the report Advancing data-intensive research in Australia, which explores opportunities and challenges associated with data-intensive research. The report also:

  • provides recommendations to improve Australia’s research data ecosystem
  • presents data practices, challenges and strategic developments
  • identifies technology, infrastructure, training and collaboration priorities for the future.

The report’s recommendations provide actions to enable Australian research to exploit opportunities and overcome challenges arising from the open and big data revolutions, as well as from developments in data science and machine learning.

Academy Climate Change Hub

You can now find all Academy evidence briefs, reports, strategies, position statements and submissions to government related to climate change in our new Climate Change Hub: science and solutions.

Academy events

See all Academy events

The long journey of human missions to Mars and back to Earth

Date: 15 November 2021

Time: 5:30 pm

Venue: Shine Dome and online

Join us for an Italian night with five southern stars: five amazing scientists will discuss the challenges of travelling across space, preparing for human missions to Mars, and what we can learn for life and sustainability on Earth. Presented by the Embassy of Italy, in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney and the Australian Academy of Science.


Food for Thought: The Future of Food and Nutrition

Date: 14 December 2021

Time: 5:30 pm

Venue: Shine Dome and online

What can a baboon’s diet teach us about the science of obesity in humans? How do our genes, diet and microbiome work together to inform our risk of disease? Join us to explore the big questions in the final instalment of Food for Thought 2021.


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