The Australian government has announced new plans to establish its own national space agency, at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide on Monday. The Australian space program has been dormant since its last microsatellite, which had been launched from a Japanese facility, shut down in 2007.
For the past year, groups from academia, government organizations, and industry ran a campaign to promote a revival of the Australian space program.
Michael Brown, an astronomer from Monash University, celebrated the announcement, saying “The creation of an Australian space agency is very exciting news.”
According to astronomer and astrophysicist Lee Spitler of Macquarie University, “The establishment of an Australian Space Agency is a strong nod of support for the current space sector in Australia.” He says the remnants of Australia’s space agency is essentially a “grassroots movement across a small number of companies, university groups, and the defense sector.”
Currently, Australia’s program makes up just .8 percent of the global space economy, which is worth a total of 330 billion dollars. The country relies mostly on foreign-built satellites for communications and research.
Though it has long faced campaigns calling for the establishment of a national space agency, the government took initial steps this past July. Arthur Sinodinos, the country’s federal minister for industry, innovation and science established an expert review group to report on Australia’s potential for a space industry.
At the Adelaide meeting, acting Industry Minister Michaelia Cash faced calls to move forward with the space program, before she announced the new plans to develop a charter for the space agency, as part of a larger space industry strategy. Appropriately, the announcement came on the 50th anniversary of the launch of WRESAT, Australia’s first satellite.
“A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry. The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement,” Cash said.
The government has yet to announce where the agency will be based, but South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill called for his state to take a prominent role in the development of the space program, saying:
“We’ve been asked to make the most sophisticated piece of manufactured equipment in the nation, the future submarines, and we should also be asked to participate in the future space industries and we’re ready and willing to do so. We’ve established our South Australian Space Industry Association, we’ve communicated with the Prime Minister, offering ourselves in the service of the nation.”