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Purpose of Legislation
Contact Officer and Copyright Details
Space Activities Bill 1998
Date Introduced: 12 November 1998
Portfolio: Industry, Science and Resources
Commencement: On Royal Assent
This Bill provides a regulatory framework for
space activities carried on either from Australia or by Australian
nationals outside Australia. The regulatory framework accords with
Australia's obligations under international law and covers:
- Safety, and
Space programs provide an important variety of
services to Australia. The diffusion of knowledge and innovation
across industry and society is an important aspect of space
capability and is a potential catalyst for creating new and
valuable spin-off technologies. These include bio-engineering,
robotics, optics, materials, software, electronics, power cells,
ground control systems, data processing and advanced manufacturing
technologies. Project management, space education and training
follow as important support structures.
The development of commercially viable
spacecraft launchers is a growing activity, as is the growth of
collaborative international space ventures, both public and
There are three main applications of space
technology. They are remote sensing of Earth, communications
systems, and scientific exploration.
Remote sensing of Earth
Remote sensing studies the atmosphere, oceans,
ice and land and how they interact. This helps Australians to
better understand the changing environment over a diverse continent
and the surrounding seas. The work also assists our space industry
to gain the best possible position in international markets for
satellite systems, ground support stations and data services.
Scientists use satellite data in many ways, from monitoring
vegetation cycles, studying earthquake deformations, forecasting
the weather and climate modelling, through to mineral prospecting,
fishing stock mapping, urban planning and nature conservation.
Satellite communications and multimedia now link
with navigation systems enabling global services for mobile
terminals and applications such as aircraft contact, shipping
logistics, tele-medicine, Internet use and tele-education.
Broadcasting satellites provide direct regional television and
radio and specialised local services. Telecommunications satellites
offer flexible, high-capacity routes for voice and data services,
providing backup in the event of undersea cable failure. Defence
satellite communications and monitoring provide the basis for
intelligence, treaty observance and military deployments. Given the
rate of change in the information revolution, space systems will
play a major future role.
Together with Earth-based astronomy, space
science helps us to better understand the solar system, our galaxy,
the Universe and ourselves. Special scientific instruments on
spacecraft collect and interpret data on radiation levels, forces,
magnetism and the electromagnetic spectrum of emissions. Bursts in
the solar wind can disrupt power transmissions on Earth and also
damage satellites. Investigation of the role of gravity in the
evolution of plants can also lead to understanding in the causes of
demineralisation of human bones and muscle atrophy. The
pharmaceutical industry has interest in the growing of high quality
protein crystals in space, while the study of influenza viruses in
low gravity helps our understanding of Earth based biological
Australia's involvement in space
Space activities are important to Australia in
both monetary and utility terms. Australia already spends around
$600 million annually on satellite systems but mostly overseas and
with no guarantee that local industry will derive benefit and
involvement in such programs. The nation has long purchased
Intelsat and Inmarsat satellite system access, but our industry has
not participated in their spacecraft or component assembly
contracts. Other nations provide us with meteorological(1) and
remote sensing imagery(2) and navigational satellite services,(3)
but with no certainties over continuation of service or the future
Meanwhile, a number of private commercial
satellite launch vehicle proponents view the Australian landmass as
offering stable potential for cost-effective rocket operations.
They all involve use of derivative overseas rocket systems launched
from sites as diverse as Woomera, Gladstone, or Christmas Island.
However, their feasibility relies on the world market for
communications and imaging satellite systems, a market that
international competitors are also keen to secure.
The market for launches derives from two principle
- development of a new generation of mobile communications
satellites in low-Earth orbit,(4) and
- high capacity satellite systems operating in the higher
geostationary Earth orbit.(5)
The new mobile communications systems of many
small, low-Earth orbit satellites offer global telecommunications
by handheld telephones, no matter where users call from on
Growth in national, direct-to-home TV
broadcasting satellites include new geostationary systems for
several Asian nations. By the end of 1997, there were 95 civilian
geostationary communications satellites providing services to the
region. Of these, some 24 satellites provide Australia with
telecommunications or broadcasting type coverage up to the power of
the domestic Optus communications satellite system.
Commercial satellite launch projects
While China and Russia remain the only current
commercial launch service providers in the region (Japan and India
are not far behind), other interests propose rocket flights from
Australia. The various recent competing launcher proposals for
Australia comprise the:
- Kistler Aerospace Corporation based in the United States
- International Resource Corporation (IRC) Russian Soyuz program,
- United Launch Systems (ULS) Russian Unity rocket program.
Together, they represent possible investment
here of $1.85 billion. There may well be other such proposals in
The Kistler venture proposes to launch
commercial payloads into orbit while recovering the launch vehicle
components on the Woomera range. The Government has entered into an
agreement with Kistler detailing the regulatory requirements for
the project. That agreement will be preserved under the provisions
of this Bill.
A regulatory framework may also facilitate the
commencement of the Asia-Pacific Space Centre on Australia's
Christmas Island External Territory by International Resource
Corporation. However, the project requires an environmental
A lesser-known venture, promoted by United
Launch Systems, may also involve launches from Hummock Hill Island
off Gladstone Queensland.
Australia has acted to negotiate a proposed
bilateral agreement for collaboration in commercial space matters
with the Russian Federation, noting that some of the launch
proposals involve the use of Russian-built rocket systems.
Australia already has some space agreements with some other nations
including the United States, France, Japan and China.
The May 1998 Federal Budget provided funds in
advance of this proposed legislation to establish the non-statutory
Space Licensing and Safety Office (SLASO). The Federal Government
also granted a wholesale sales tax exemption of 22 per cent for
imported space launch vehicles and satellites.
The current Federal Government made major
administrative changes to space affairs after it came to power in
1996. It abolished the Australian Space Council and Office,
terminated funded space programs, and instead moved to establish a
new demonstration satellite program for the Centenary of Federation
- FedSat. FedSat is under development through a Cooperative
Research Centre for Satellite Systems; with broader policy matters
still retained within the Department of Industry, Science and
Resources (DISR), through its internal Space Policy Unit (SPU).
There is at present no existing legislative or
regulatory framework for Australian space launch activities. This
Bill seeks to address this lacuna and to define specific space
launch policy. It is understood that this Bill follows the model
established by the United States Commercial Space Launch Act
1984 with the Amendments of 1988. Other nations with
regulatory frameworks for space include Sweden, Russia and
Basis of policy
An objective of the proposed regulatory
framework is to enable the introduction of a new industry and
facilitate its operation to enable an estimated net economic
benefit to Australia. The regulatory regime aims to be cost-neutral
and require industry participants to carry appropriate commercial
insurance to reduce the chance of claims against the Commonwealth.
South Australia and Queensland are actively supporting launch
The Bill proposes separate accident or incident
investigation functions from SLASO, allowing the Minister to
appoint an Investigator with general overriding powers.(7) The
Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill states that DISR has recommended
this function be performed by the Bureau of Air Safety
Investigation (BASI), within the Department of Transport and
Regional Services, under a memorandum of understanding.(8)
In the United States, the Office of Commercial
Space Transportation, a similar organisation to the proposed SLASO,
comes under the auspices of the Department of Transportation rather
than the Department of Commerce, although cooperation exists.
As a signatory to the five United Nations (UN)
space treaties, Australia is obliged to establish a licensing and
safety regime for space launches and space objects. This
particularly applies to matters of liability for damage,
environmental effects such as harmful contaminations, registration,
the Moon, space liability and astronauts. This Bill explicitly
acknowledges Australia's international obligations under these
Liability for damage caused by space
The Liability Convention of 1972 imposes a
liability on launching States for any damage or loss to other
States or persons and third parties. The mechanisms for settling
claims are complex and may place a heavy burden on any commercial
entity outside government.
Registration of objects
The 1975 Registration Convention obliges
Australia to register all space objects for which it is the
launching State. It appears that Australia has not done this for
past launches including the Woomera Wresat and Prospero launches
and the Australis-OscarV satellite.
Exploration and use of outer
Under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, Australia is
responsible internationally for its outer space activities be they
public or private. Australia is required to authorise and supervise
any non-government entities active in space and is liable for any
damage caused globally.
The Moon and other celestial
The Moon Agreement of 1979 relates to the
exploration and exploitation of the Moon. Australia has supported a
variety of Lunar missions through spacecraft ground tracking and
scientific experiments. In the next century, Australia may well
play a greater role.
Rescue of astronauts and return of
Under the Rescue Agreement of 1968, if Australia
discovers that a space object has returned to Earth it is obliged
to inform the launching authority and the UN and recover the object
if requested. Such an event occurred with the return of Skylab here
significant interest groups
The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences
and Engineering (the Academy) welcomes the legislation though it
believes that its primary purpose should be the enabling and
encouragement of a world-competitive Australian space
The Australian Space Industry Chamber of
Commerce (ASICC) believes that a proper regulatory regime for the
commercial launch industry is required to ensure that appropriate
safeguards are in place and to help develop space business and
investment. During the preparation of the Bill, ASICC recommended
two principles for the legislation. Firstly, that the legislation
establish a constructive and supportive environment to attract and
foster investment in Australian space activities. Secondly, that
the obligations imposed on business entities attempting space
activities be clear and free from arbitrary determinations and as a
minimum, no more stringent to business than those currently imposed
ASICC expressed concern that the proposed
legislation would subject launches outside Australia that were
procured by Australian nationals, to the same requirements as those
conducted within Australia. ASICC sees these as two separate issues
and recommended that they be considered as such.(11)
ASICC raised issues on sales tax and incentives,
launch licensing, fees, insurance and administration and the
restrictions on Australian nationals launching outside Australia.
ASICC remains concerned about the regulatory details including
matters such as how fees will be assessed, Government
administration and the exact licensing process.(12)
Prominent among members of ASICC are space
insurance companies, which have large markets to gain through the
provision of commercial launch insurance. The local space insurance
sector has become significant in the region, with one insurance
company reported to have written $150 million in premiums in the
year to June 1997.(13) The sector may wish for liability protection
and insurance to include related parties such as agents, employees
and sub-contractors of licence holders to encourage a space
Some believe that these initiatives may not
necessarily lend themselves to advancing indigenous space activity,
as there is no requirement for the involvement of local industry
participants. Indeed, Kistler's proposal to invite Australian
industry to provide rocket recovery parachutes, rather than any
high-technology components, has drawn media scorn.(14) However, the
project has already involved a number of Australian companies.
The Bill does not clarify the administrative
arrangements applying to cooperation with other departments. There
is no mention of CSIRO's significant space interests and the FedSat
program under the Cooperative Centre for Satellite Systems. These
activities involve wide international collaborations and
participation in international space forums. Meanwhile, DISR also
has space policy involvements and now, significant obligations.
There appears to be no actual definition of
'space' in the Bill. While this may seem arcane, there has actually
been a long-running debate on defining the boundaries of space
above Earth. The legal boundary between the Earth's air space and
outer space remains unclear. Note also that the term 'launch' in
the Bill refers only to objects launched into 'outer
space'. Consideration might be given to whether the term
'outer space' should be defined to include objects launched into
sub-orbital flights and low Earth orbit, in
addition to those launched into outer space. It is not
clear whether sub-orbital flights would fall within the 'outer
There seems to be no specific cross-references
to the requirements of air safety legislation, environmental
review, or the Australian Contingency Plan for Space Re-Entry
Debris, though these issues may be addressed in the
Part 1 sets out the objects of
the proposed Space Activities Act and provides a
simplified general outline of the proposed legislation.
Part 2 defines the terms used
in the proposed legislation. Note that neither of the terms 'space'
nor 'space activities' is defined.
Part 3 deals with regulation of
Part 3 Division 1 provides that
the launch or return of a space object, and for the operation of a
launch facility, requires certified approval. Overseas launches
involving Australian nationals also require certified approval
where the Australian national is a 'responsible party'.
Part 3 Division 2 allows the
Minister to grant a space licence, which will authorise the
operation of a launch facility. A space licence covers a particular
launch facility in Australia, and a particular kind of launch
Part 3 Division 3 provides for
the Minister to grant a launch permit authorising the launch of a
particular space object or series of space objects. The criteria to
be satisfied as well as the terms of a launch permit are also
Part 3 Division 4 sets out the
criteria under which an overseas launch certificate may be
obtained. Note that authorised launch certificates are only
required if an Australian national is the 'responsible party' to
Part 3 Division 5 sets out the
provisions relating to the return of overseas-launched space
objects. Note that the returning space object need not be the same
as the space object launched. For example, a launch may return with
a different payload collected in space.
Part 3 Division 6 provides that
the Minister may issue exemption certificates for activities under
Items 11, 13 and 15. These activities concern
launches, return of Australian-launched objects and space
Part 3 Division 7 provides that
certain insurance/financial requirements are to be met by the
holder of a launch permit, an overseas launch certificate or an
Item 43 authorisation.(16)
Part 3 Division 8 provides that
the Minister must appoint a Launch Safety Officer for each licensed
launch facility, though a Launch Safety Officer can be responsible
for more than one licensed launch facility. Items
51 and 52 set out the functions and
powers of the Launch Safety Officer.
Part 3 Division 9 covers
administrative arrangements, including fees, requests for
information and applications for review of ministerial decisions to
the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Part 4 deals with liability for
damage by space objects and sets out the scope of liability.
Briefly, liability may arise if damage is caused by a space object
launched from Australia, or where Australia is the launching State
and where the damage is caused during the liability period.
Part 4 Division 2 sets out the
rules for liability for third party damage. Item
66 provides that the responsible party for the launch or
return of a space object is liable to pay compensation for any
damage the space object causes to a third party on Earth or as a
result of damage to an aircraft in flight. The responsible party
will not be liable if it establishes that the damage was caused by
the gross negligence of the third party or that the third party
intended to cause the damage.
Part 4 Division 3 provides that
the Federal Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine actions
for compensation for damage under this Part.
Part 4 Division 4 deals with
compensation claims by foreign countries in accordance with the
Liability Convention under international law (as set out in
Schedule 1 of this Bill).
Part 5 provides for a Register
of Space Objects and specifies the information to be entered into
the Register. The Register must be made available for public
Part 6 sets out the civil
penalty provisions of the proposed legislation.
Part 7 deals with investigation
of accidents and defines the terms 'accident' and 'incident'.
Part 7 Division 2 establishes a
system for accident investigations. Item 90 sets
out the powers of the Investigator in gathering information and
taking custody of things relevant to the investigation.
Item 92 provides that no part of a report or other
document given to the Minister under this item may be published
without the Minister's written approval. Item 96
makes other Commonwealth investigating agencies or persons subject
to this Part.(17)
Part 8 Item 108 maintains any
pre-existing agreement between the Commonwealth and another person
made before 11 November 1998. Item 109 allows for
matters to be prescribed by regulation.
Schedules 1-5 all deal with
international agreements relevant to this proposed legislation.
Each Schedule sets out the Articles of each agreement.
While Australia currently spends in the order of
$600 million annually on space system applications much of this
expenditure heads overseas with only limited local input. Australia
does, for example, have expertise in managing ground control
systems, spacecraft component manufacture, especially optics and
image processing techniques. However, for the first time, the Bill
acknowledges the importance of space to Australia and it is
understood that the Department is developing a specific space
industry policy. It is of interest to note that Australia is not
directly participating in the International Space Station program,
which involves more than 15 nations in the assembly of an
always-crewed infrastructure in-orbit.(18)
The Bill only grants a licence after
consideration of, among other things, security and environmental
aspects. However these safeguards may not remove the risk to
certain population centres from falling debris and explosive
propellants. The proposed Asia Pacific Space Centre on Christmas
Island could have far reaching effects on the local community and
also in a strategic sense. The proximity of Hummock Hill Island to
the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is also of note.
Item 96 of the Bill provides that other
investigative bodies are subject to the general investigation
provisions under Part 7 Division 2 of the Bill. However, the
Explanatory Memorandum notes that DISR has recommended this
function be carried out by BASI in the Department of Transport and
Regional Services under a memorandum of understanding. This
proposal to streamline investigative functions for both space and
air accidents or incidents may be implemented by regulations under
Whereas the UN Space Treaties were written in
the first decades of the Space Age, now the private sector has
begun to establish and launch space operations to match public
activity. Some of these treaties may be the subject of review in
July 1999 when, for the first time since 1982, high-level
government officials will meet at the Third United Nations Global
Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
- For example, Japanese GMS.
- For example, American Landsat and French Spot.
- For example, American GPS.
- For example, the new Iridium mobile telephone service that has
recently commenced operations.
- Higher geostationary orbit is what might be loosely described
as 'outer space'.
- James, M.L., 'Australia in Orbit: Space Policy and Programs',
Current Issues Brief No.12 1997-98, Information and
Research Services, Department of the Parliamentary Library,
Canberra, April 1998.
- Part 7 of the Bill sets out the scope of the Investigator's
powers. In particular, Item 96 provides that the powers and
functions of a Commonwealth agency or person (eg. The Bureau of Air
Safety Investigation) are subject to the powers of the Investigator
appointed under this Part.
- Space Activities Bill 1998, Explanatory Memorandum,
para 33, p.10.
- Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Journal, Focus, March/April 1998, p.15.
- Barrett, W., 'Space Industry Heard in Canberra', Space
Frontier News, Vol.5, No.4, July 1998.
- Article from Reuters, 'GIO launches specialist space unit',
Australian Financial Review, 4 September 1998, p.47.
- Comments by Mr Chris Chapman, 'Lift-off for spaceport at
Woomera', Australian Financial Review, 28 July 1998.
- A sub-orbital flight has a trajectory that returns to Earth not
long after launch. This is often used for scientific experiments.
- Item 43 provides that return of overseas-launched space objects
may be authorised by permission or by agreement.
- A member of the Australian Federal Police is exempt from Item
- The first stage of the program was recently launched from
Kazakhstan by Russia.
Ross Kilmurray and Matthew James
25 November 1998
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services
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