Space is an industry that inspires, fascinates and excites people. Generally, rockets and astronauts come to mind when we think about the space industry, but its technology and equipment are very much a part of our day-to-day lives. There are enormous opportunities for individuals, organisations, and communities to take advantage of this growing sector, particularly in rural and regional areas.
Australians are most familiar with our nation’s involvement in the moon landing. In 1969, tracking stations at Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes in New South Wales, relayed images back to Earth of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren walking on the moon. This followed the rocket testing program in the late 1950’s at Woomera in South Australia as part of the Australian Government’s Weapons Research Establishment.
Perhaps less familiar to Australians is the continued use of space-based technologies and applications in our daily life. Mobile phones, the internet, weather forecasting, GPS technology and banking services all rely on data derived from space. Space related technologies were once considered those of the future – robots, drones, remote sensors, and artificial intelligence – but are very much where we are now. For Australia to be competitive, we need to not only foster these technologies and their applications but ensure we have people with the right skills and expertise to make it happen.
The pace at which space-based technologies and innovation are developing is set to revolutionise the way we live. Space 2.0 refers to utilising and accessing space here on Earth. It includes a range of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, remote sensing, smart sensors, nanotechnology, microelectronics, big data, robotics, drones, autonomous systems, quantum computing and the internet of things. The significance of Space 2.0 is that it will create the jobs of the future.
In addition to improving our lives, this transformation will present real opportunities for Australia to be part of a growing and lucrative global space industry. Australia needs to position itself to capitalise on these opportunities.
Australia enjoys natural and structured advantages that can be leveraged to benefit socially and economically. Our geography and landscape, education and training system, technical expertise and international partnerships and agreements all combine to form an important foundation for access to the global space industry supply chains and the development of sustainable commercial activities. Furthermore, Australia is renowned for its innovation, research and development.
The Australia’ space industry is enjoying a renewed focus and interest. The establishment of the Australian Space Agency in 2018 has helped to galvanise an industry and signal Australia’s commitment to a globally competitive industry. It is fair to say it has invigorated the domestic space industry. However, more can be done.
The Australian Government has a set a goal to grow the domestic space sector by $12 billion and create an additional 20,000 jobs. This report makes recommendations designed to support this growth and beyond. It has identified key reforms that the Committee hopes will help the Australian space sector to be more globally competitive while preserving and protecting the space environment. Some of these reforms include the call for an overarching vision for the industry in Australia, to inspire confidence and investment in our space capabilities, and an increased visibility of space across the Government and the Parliament.
The report acknowledges the importance of the Australian Space Agency, its dedicated staff, and the role it has played in strengthening the Australian space industry. At the same time, the Committee believes it is timely that important consideration be given to the agency’s funding, operations and status, including whether it be a made a statuary authority. This is to ensure it can even better support the industry and hold its own with other international space agencies.
Importantly, this inquiry helped to uncover that space is an accessible industry to those wishing to pursue a career in this field. The sector presents a lot of opportunity for Australia and the need to grow a workforce to support it is paramount. Beyond rockets and astronauts, there are many and varied jobs that can be undertaken. The Committee heard that there are a range of professions – not generally associated with space – such as law, medicine, project management, communications and business that will all be required to support Australia’s space industry and facilitated to grow an internationally competitive sector. The report recommends that community education and outreach programs to promote these opportunities are developed, and that diversity is sought across the sector.
Further, there is so much potential for our rural and regional areas to benefit from, and get involved in Australia’s space sector. This includes the links between our regional industries and the space sector, the application of space related technology and infrastructure to agriculture, health and telecommunications; and of course the uptake of regional education and training to better equip young people to build their careers in this industry. The report calls for an examination of ways to maximize these benefits.
This inquiry was the second undertaken by this Committee during COVID-19 conditions, where travel and lockdown restrictions challenged the way we engaged with stakeholders and met as a committee. For the industry, COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerability of Australia’s reliance on other countries for space related technologies and services, and global supply chains. It reinforced the need for sovereign space capability, so that Australia has what it needs to design, build and maintain our own space requirements. In turn, the Committee has made recommendations with a view to this. For example, we have recommended a national assessment of Australia’s current and future space infrastructure requirements with particular emphasis on developing sovereign capability in identified areas, while acknowledging the need for industry to access a range of infrastructure for research and development, and manufacture.
This is an exciting time for the Australian space industry, with awe-inspiring work already being done here. I believe I speak on behalf of the Committee in saying we hope this report acknowledges the wonderful things happening now, and that it goes further to encourage and support the future promise and potential of the industry. This bipartisan report therefore makes 38 recommendations designed to drive growth and investment, encourage commercialisation of research and development, better facilitate international collaboration and grow a future space workforce.
The Committee appreciates the contribution of witnesses and those who hosted the Committee on site visits, and those joining us remotely from home studios and offices.
I would like to thank the former Chair, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP for his stewardship of this inquiry, the Deputy Chair, the Hon Sharon Bird MP, and Committee Members for all their work.
I also extend my thanks to all the Committee Secretariat staff involved in the public hearings and preparation of this report.
Pat Conaghan MP