Let’s bring the Australian space race back to Earth
Visions of rockets being launched from cities and the romanticism of colonies on the moon have been wheeled out by states and territories in attempts to secure the Australian Space Agency.
But it’s time to bring the conversation back to Earth. After all, it’s here on the ground that we’ve come to rely so heavily on space capabilities.
While blackholes and moon landings are inspiring, space for Australia is not just about what’s going up – far more importantly, it’s about meeting needs and opportunities on the ground.
From GPS to national security, from emergency management and environmental monitoring to communications, space plays a central role in our everyday lives.
Advancing these capabilities through coordination and strategic funding will be the enabling focus of the Australian Space Agency.
“The government now realises how dependent we are on space, and how we have become too reliant on the capabilities of other countries,” UNSW Canberra Space Director Russell Boyce says
“We rely on space technologies for defence and national security, emergency management and biosecurity, and much much more.”
Professor Boyce says Australia’s opportunities in space lie in combining our growing expertise in “Space 2.0” with disruptive technologies that we are world leaders in.
“Space 2.0 is about the clever use of constellations of miniature satellites, such as cubesats, that are agile, affordable and can be reprogrammed while they are on orbit to deliver new outcomes on the ground,” he says.
“By combining rigorous space engineering with disruptive technologies such as on-board processing, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and even quantum technologies, constellations of small spacecraft can deliver game-changing outcomes.
“That’s what UNSW Canberra Space is about, and we’re the largest and leading Australian space mission capability”.
UNSW Canberra Space already has one cubesat successfully orbiting Earth. Buccaneer, a joint mission with the Australian government’s Defence Science and Technology Group, is part of efforts to enhance Defence technologies and to understand and mitigate space congestion.
A second UNSW Canberra Space cubesat packed with sophisticated radio technologies is set to launch soon. M1, funded by the Royal Australian Air Force, will be used to demonstrate maritime surveillance technologies and enhance space education, and will be followed by two more in 2019.
UNSW Canberra Space recently signed separate agreements with the French space agency CNES and with Airbus and the university’s space spin-off Skykraft, to study breakthrough hyperspectral remote-sensing micro satellites, about the size of a washing machine, that will be capable of monitoring Australia’s and the South Pacific’s coral reefs.
These missions demonstrate a few of the diverse fields in which space technology is being utilised, and we already have the end-to-end capability to design, develop and implement these missions here in the nation’s capital.
The Australian National Concurrent Design Facility opened at UNSW Canberra Space in 2017, supported by the ACT government and CNES. It complements the Australian National University’s spacecraft test facilities and means Canberra now has the capability to develop space missions from start to finish.
The global space industry is growing rapidly, and Australia is poised to play a crucial role in that industry if we play to our strengths.
What’s more, a self-reliant space industry will create new jobs and research opportunities in Australia. Some of these will be “upstream” activities that provide space technology, while others will be “downstream” activities that utilise the upstream technology in a range of different applications.
Climate science, secure communications, precision agriculture, urban planning and national security are among the areas that can grow and benefit from a robust space industry.
The Australian Space Agency will be the enabler to bring about that future, but will rely on Team Australia – all of the states and territories, and both industry and the innovation sector, working together rather than fighting for who will host it – to get the work done.
If we do that, we can make a real difference here on Earth.