Submission—Interdepartmental Committee on International Space

On 27 September 1995, the Australian Academy of Science made the following submission to the interdepartmental committee on international space.


Australia has considerable achievements in space science and technology. But the country's space program is too small to be useful or sustainable. Without a great increase in funding (to a level still below some Asian countries), it will not produce worthwhile results.

The Commonwealth Government funds the National Space Program in order to build high-technology industries in Australia. Space science is the starting point for both a space program and space-related industries both depend on the research, the techniques and the inventions of scientists. Australia's space program needs to place more emphasis on space science in order to gain industrial benefits.


The Academy recommends:

  1. The Australian Government provide at least $20 million per year for the development of a useful and sustainable National Space Program, as recommended in the expert panel report. The capability for payload and satellite manufacture should have a higher priority than launch capability.
  2. Australia develop a sustainable and recognisable space science component to its National Space Program. This component should provide the capability to build flight instrumentation of value to Australia. Following the expert panel recommendation R6, commit 10 per cent of the program budget or $2 million to space science. Collaborative funding arrangements with the Australian Research Council should be reinstated.
  3. The National Space Program support Australia's membership of COSPAR.
  4. In order to gain access to expensive data, Australia should, where appropriate, gain membership of international consortiums by contributing space instrumentation.
  5. A member representing space science be appointed to the Australian Space Council. This should be the Chair of the Academy's National Committee for Space Science or his or her nominee.
  6. The industry and academic members equal the number of Australian Government representatives on the Australian Space Council.
  7. The Australian Space Office be directed and staffed by personnel with recognised experience in the technical and administrative aspects of a national space program.


With the launch of its first satellite, WRESAT in 1967, Australia became the third nation to launch a satellite from its own territory. But our subsequent progress compares poorly with some of our Asian neighbours and other developed countries (Sweden, Denmark) which have set up space programs over the last few years .

In 1992 the Australian government commissioned an expert panel review of the Australian space program. As a result the government passed the Australian Space Council Act 1994 which incorporated the National Space Program (NSP) to be implemented under a five year plan. Its mission was to secure for Australia net benefits from the development and use of spacerelated science, technology and industry. This was particularly timely in the climate following the cold war, the push for easy access to global communications and the opportunities opening up in the AsiaPacific region.

However, the rolling five year plan developed by the Australian Space Council (ASC) cannot be implemented because of the inadequate funding provided by the Commonwealth Government. In the 1995 budget statement the government announced the end of funding from the 199596 financial year.

Of particular concern to the Academy is the failure to gain the scientific and technical benefits that the National Space Program is capable of delivering and the consequential lessening of Australia's international connections and prestige in space-related science and technology. The present submission will address, from a perspective of space science and technology, why Australia needs a space program and respond to the terms of reference of the interdepartmental committee.

The Case for an Australian Space Program

Australia is a vast continent with a small population. It is isolated from other major population centres and markets and surrounded on three sides by expanses of ocean. These factors have combined to engender a sense of remoteness. Space technology can overcome this remoteness. Technologies that have flowed from other countries' space programs include communication links (such as connection to the information superhighway), navigation (global positioning satellites), search and rescue, meteorology, environmental monitoring, earth resources, oceanography and security surveillance. Of all countries, Australia has the most to gain from the application of space science and technology. Therefore, an adequately funded space program that advances these and other technologies will further the national interest.

The program must be of high quality, it must earn the respect of peers around the world, and it must be of a size commensurate with Australia's economic, scientific and technical resources. The size of the program must also be commensurate with the benefit that the nation derives from the application of space technologies. The aim of the rolling five year plans of the ASC was to satisfy these needs. However, this aim cannot be realised without adequate funding. In 1994, Australia committed $6 million to its space program. Brazil, Sweden, Canada and the UK spent 30 times as much. The Australian contribution is about 35 cents per person per year; less than the cost of one postage stamp. Since the Australian space program began in 1985, a total of about $55 million has been spent, less than the annual space budget for the above countries. The unstable and unsatisfactory funding is insufficient to build a commercially competitive space industry.

Australia has become a major importer of space goods and services. In the early 1980s when Australia purchased three AUSSAT satellites only 0.025 per cent was built by Australian industry; a planned science module was abandoned. Government figures show that approximately $700 million per year is spent on the importation of space goods and services. It would be more appropriate for Australia to spend, through the NSP, a small fraction of this money on Australian suppliers.

Space Science in the Australian Program

Space science includes such disciplines as earth observation, space astronomy, solar-terrestrial physics and planetary science.

Space science is an essential high priority element of any space program. It provides the material and intellectual resources for industrial spinoffs. For example, the Taiwanese and Danish governments are undertaking major space science missions to develop their industries and achieve international credibility. Although space science has not fared well under the NSP, Australia enjoys an international reputation for the invention of unique flight experiments and instruments; this reputation has been built in collaborative activities with overseas space agencies. This is well illustrated in the Endeavour project, Radioastron and the recent launch of ATSR-2 (the second Along Track Scanning Radiometer).

These experiments have capitalised on areas of excellence in basic science and engineering. They indicate the way for the future: focus on our strengths and build on previous achievements. In addition to earning international respect, a successful space science project will also train scientists and technologists in spacerelated areas. This is being addressed to a limited extent through the Space Industry Development Centre program and research in the universities, but direct support of space science and space technology is required.

The Terms of Reference

Assess the importance and likely future costs and benefits of a national capability in space science, technology and industry, and the role of the Commonwealth Government in developing and maintaining that capability, particularly in the light of estimates of the current and likely future cost to Australia of space-related goods and services.

Unique space instruments can only be designed and built with the long-term support of adequate infrastructurescientists with world-leading abilities, skilled technicians, laboratories, workshops and test and monitoring facilities. The process begins with basic and applied research, and progresses to technology development, industrial construction and flight testing. Following launch, infrastructure providing data retrieval, analysis and interpretation is required to complete any experiment.

If the infrastructure is not maintained over a sufficiently long time, then the benefits that could be gained will not be realised. It is therefore necessary for the government to commit adequate funding not only to the research and development of space instrumentation, but also to other aspects of space science. For example, the NSP funded the industrial construction of space components in the Radioastron and Endeavour projects but did not support the science programs which devised the experiments for which this space hardware was built. This situation has not changed.

The idea that the NSP must be industry driven implies significant funding from commercial sources. Industry has benefited from programs such as Endeavour, which have space-qualified some parts of Australian industry, but generally sees investment in space as risky. Both the expert panel and the Madigan Report made recommendations and suggested strategies for funding a useful NSP. Cooperative funding arrangements between the NSP, the Australian Research Council and other science funding bodies are necessary. The Australian space industry will respond to leadership from government.

Evaluate the potential cost and strategic effectiveness of the National Space Program, as generally prescribed in the five year plan of the Australian Space Council, with particular attention to its contribution to Australia's
  • manufacturing and service industry development
  • public good services and infrastructure
  • science and technology base, and
  • foreign policy and defence interests and objectives.

Manufacturing and service industry development

Space science is an essential part of space industry development. Without exception, all overseas countries have initiated and nourished their industrial space programs with a strong space science element. A recent example of this continuing pattern is that of Taiwan.

For a short time in the early 1980s, this proven approach was followed in Australia. The sciencebased Starlab program stimulated early industrial capability and led to the NSP. Design and development opportunities in the Endeavour and Radioastron programs provided companies such as Auspace and British Aerospace Australia with essential (albeit limited) experience for contributing to applications programs such as the Along Track Scanning Radiometer series of instruments and elements of the OptusB procurement.

A greater space science component in the National Space Program would assist the development of the Australian space industry and the achievement of commercial competitiveness.

What does space science offer to the development of manufacturing and service industries?

  • relevant space research
  • access to state of the art technology
  • demonstrations of preoperational technology
  • feasibility studies and technical support
  • education and training of engineers and scientists
  • scientific liaison including access to relevant international programs
  • sources of market intelligence
  • credibility in national and international markets.

Public good services and infrastructure

There are a number of cases where Australian participation in a particular space project may lead to national public benefits. A good example is space meteorology. At present Australia obtains space meteorological data at no cost from US and Russian polar orbiting spacecraft and from a Japanese geostationary satellite. It is unlikely that this free service will continue indefinitely. If we had to purchase these space services we would be in a very weak position, both to negotiate costs and to influence the type of service provided. A better option is to buy into the space meteorology club in a modest but appropriate manner by contributing new instrumentation to future meteorological satellites. Development of the atmospheric pressure sensor could offer such an opportunity. In order to gain value from past investments, such a strategy should be an essential part of the five year plan.

Science and technology base

The expert panel report accepted that ' an essential part of any balanced national space program. There is abundant evidence from many parts of the world that science projects are the precursors of most modern space applications; and the NSP should contribute to the funding of science activities of relevance to Australias present and planned future space activities which cannot reasonably be financed by the ARC or other sources.' In contrast to this statement, the five year plan concentrates on technology; science is rarely mentioned. Although science features prominently in the mission statement - 'net benefits from the development and use of spacerelated, science, technology and industry', it does not appear in any of the objectives, strategies or actions. The objectives of the five year plan should be redirected to emphasise the importance of fostering space-related research.

As noted earlier, all other countries sustaining a space program have recognised the importance of space science as a foundation for instrument and technology development. If Australia is to develop and manufacture new and unique instruments, then space science must play a role in the future as it did in the Endeavour and Along Track Scanning Radiometer projects. The Academy believes that space science should be supported as an integral and recognisable component of the NSP. This is the only way that mutual benefits to science and industry can be achieved. Effective management of space science projects would require an international advisory committee for a satellite project, science teams for multifaceted projects, and principal investigators with support groups for individual experiments. All assessment and selection processes should be undertaken by peer review and directed by a committee of experts. The Academy promotes scientific activities between Australian and international scientific groups. Space science is important to international collaboration and thereby increases Australia's prestige and the transfer of knowledge. Overseas scientists are concerned at the erosion of Australia's preeminence in certain areas of space science (for example, x-ray and ultraviolet astronomy) due to lack of support through the NSP. At the international level, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) is the major forum for Space Science, while the Scientific Committee on Solar Terrestrial Physics carries out interdisciplinary programs. Both bodies are respected by governments, space agencies, universities and scientists worldwide. There are various levels of membership to COSPAR; Australia has traditionally subscribed to the category that befits our history as a nation with capabilities in satellite payload development and launch. The Academy's National Committee on Space Science compiles a biennial report to COSPAR which collates Australian space science activities and contributes to the projection of Australia's space science and technology credentials at an international level. In many countries the subscription to COSPAR is met by the national space agency. In Australia it is funded by the Academy. With Academy funding diminishing, it would be appropriate for the Australian Space Office to contribute half of the US$12,000 annual subscription. The NSP five year plan recommended collaboration with the Australian Research Council in funding spacerelated research projects. This cooperative funding scheme was abandoned before its first year of operation, 1996. This is a very important initiative which should be reinstated. Even then, it will only provide supplementary support to projects unless the ARC can inject significant funds. In line with the reinstatement of space science to a place in the NSP, it will be necessary to reword relevant recommendations in the second five year plan to include science. For example, Objective 4, Strategy 13a and Action item 29. Furthermore, in the interests of the space program it is vitally important that Recommendation R6 of the expert panel be implemented as originally intended. This states: 'The panel recommends that science projects which are in support of NSP objectives...should regularly receive a share of available funding, and that it be considered important not to drop below 10 per cent of the NSP budget in any one year'.

Foreign policy and defence

Space activities have a global scale. Participation in international space science programs contributes in a significant manner to Australian foreign policy objectives. Collaboration in the Russian Radioastron space astronomy mission was initiated under an intergovernmental space research agreement between Australia and the former USSR. Australian participation in the German-Japanese EXPRESS re-entry technology program, and the current Japanese ALFLEX model spaceplane program are supported under intergovernmental science and technology agreements. University research in astronomy and space science is similarly supported. Such programs assist in building closer political and technological links between Australia and the countries concerned, and provide a strong foundation for further scientific and commercial cooperation. Cooperative space science programs play a particularly valuable role in strengthening Australian political and economic links in the Asia-Pacific region. For example, a program focused on solar-terrestrial physics in the equatorial region, possibly including a low inclination satellite, would be of particular benefit to Australia and Indonesia. Apart from the scientific objectives, such a program would have direct economic and technological benefits in areas such as communications and the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar. Scientific cooperation with nations of similar longitude -Japan, Indonesia, China, Taiwan or South Korea - could lead to the joint provision of instrumentation on shared geostationary spacecraft (for meteorology or communications). The Department of Defence is aware of the need for an indigenous space surveillance capability. This is reflected in the 1994 Defence White Paper and by the inclusion of the JP2044 satellite surveillance initiative in the department's Pink Book. Additionally, a space science group is being established at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

Support of space science under the NSP will substantially strengthen the possibility of establishing a space surveillance capability. This will be achieved through the training of scientists and engineers experienced in the specification, design, manufacture, test and operation of advanced imaging and other sensor systems required to meet national security objectives. Without such a local capability, the department will need to purchase expensive off-shore space assets or expertise having little Australian content. Apart from providing no industrial benefit to Australia, this course of action would also lead to an increased trade deficit, unwanted dependence on other countries and compromised national security.

Examine the administrative structures supporting the National Space Program; assess their efficiency and effectiveness and present options of future arrangements.

The Australian Space Council Act of 1994 established the ASC with the prime purpose of integrating and directing the National Space Program through the provision of a five year plan. The Australian Space Office is the executive arm servicing the council and implementing the program. The implementation has not been successful. This has been noted earlier with respect to the exclusion of space science from the program and the lack of adequate funding to implement the plan. Currently, the ASC membership is weighted towards Public Service appointees, with fewer external members from industry. There are no space science representatives on the ASC. Considering the role of science in earlier Australian space instrumentation successes, this should be remedied immediately. At the same time, the imbalance of ASC membership should be addressed, with no more than half the members being government representatives. In order for the ASC to work more effectively, some of its members could work full time. Overworked academics and government and industry representatives cannot run the ASC on a parttime basis. The government should provide adequate funding so that a nucleus drawn from the ASC membership could be seconded to the fulltime task of implementing the NSP, perhaps on a rotating basis. The Australian Space Office has not been successful over the years in supporting the aims and plans of the ASC. This is partly the result of inadequate funding and partly a consequence of its confinement to a government department and the provision of staff from the Public Service. Much of the office's activity and funding has been confined to fact-finding missions, policy statements and feasibility studies for projects and missions which have ultimately been abandoned. An office directed and staffed by people with experience in the technical and administrative aspects of a space program would be better. Advisers could be seconded from industry, academia or other areas for specific projects. In this way the office could focus on providing the knowledgeable leadership and support necessary to coordinate and implement the space program. The office must maintain its activities that support Australian work originating from US, European, Japanese and other space agencies. These activities generate national benefits at very little cost to the Australian taxpayer. A current example is the Japanese ALFLEX project.

Provide estimates of funding required to meet various possible levels of involvement by the Commonwealth Government in Australia's space activities.

Since 1987 the National Space Program has operated on a total budget of about $55 million, averaging $6 million per year over the last four years. This compares with the expert panel's recommended annual program budget of $20 million by 1994-95. This is a minimum for a space program that will have useful results. It is the view of the Academy that if Australia is to have a serious space program, then it should include a sustainable and recognisable space science component. This should be funded by at least 10 per cent of the NSP budget, as stated in Recommendation R6 of the expert panel report.

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