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Space industry lifts off

Posted February 18, 2020

The benefits of Australia having international representation through our new national space agency are starting to flow through to local companies involved in the space industry – and the excitement is spreading to the next generation of Australian pioneers in space.

These are two of the themes at today’s 9th Australian Space Forum, being held at the Adelaide Convention Centre and opened by Premier Steven Marshall and addressed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews is also taking part, joining a panel session on national and international space trends.

The forum is expected to attract more than 1000 participants and 40 companies, organisations and educational institutions, which will showcase their leading-edge products and services.

The 9th Australian Space Forum is presented by the South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC), and supported by the Australian Space Agency (ASA) and the SmartSat CRC, both officially launched today at Lot Fourteen.

The forum has blossomed from 110 people at the first event in May 2016 to over 900 at the 8thAustralian Space Forum in September 2019, reflecting the growth of the nation’s space industry.

The Deloitte GRAVITY Challenge, part of the September forum, was aimed at corporates, entrepreneurs and universities to design and build solutions to real industrial, social and environmental problems. Over six weeks, 42 teams across Australia competed to solve challenges across eight industry groups using space capabilities and data, resulting in the development of commercial agreements.

In South Australia alone, there are nearly 80 space businesses and organisations. These include at least 20 businesses which started in the last five years, among them Myriota, Inovor Technologies, Neumann Space and SITAEL Australia, all of which are based at Lot Fourteen.

Today’s high-profile speakers represent a range of agencies and companies including Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (the Italian Space Agency), the Australian Space Agency (the Agency), NASA, CSIRO and the SmartSat CRC.

SASIC Chief Executive Richard Price said the benefits of Australia being represented in the international space community through the establishment of the Agency were already starting to flow through to local companies.

The Australian Government announced in September 2019 that the Agency and NASA had entered into a partnership on future space cooperation, including the opportunity for Australia to join the United States’ Moon to Mars exploration approach and the program to return to the moon.

The Australian Government is investing $150 million over five years for local businesses and researchers to join NASA’s endeavour and deliver key capabilities for the mission. This support means Australian businesses and researchers will have the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and capabilities in projects that can support NASA’s mission. It will also help the businesses to become more competitive in international space supply chains and increase Australia’s share in a growing US$350 billion global space market.

Mr Price said there was infinite potential for space technologies to continue being adapted beyond space exploration for use in other sectors.

“The miniaturisation of electronics means you can now make a satellite for $1 million that can do the same things as a satellite that used to cost $100 million,” he said.

“An example is precision agriculture, which relies on satellite GPS (geographic positioning systems) for extremely precise measurements to position farm equipment within centimetres of accuracy. It also uses earth observation to predict crop yields and estimate where and how much fertilizer and pesticides to apply. Now you can buy new data every eight hours, such as in the form of heat maps or humidity reports. Space generated GPS is also being used for the navigation of autonomous vehicles.

“Another example of the broader application of space technology is the fact that some companies are making insurance assessments or progress payments for civil construction projects based on space data.”

Mr Price said the Agency was also making a much-needed contribution by representing Australian interests in the international governance of space.

“The Agency is making it easier to align the regulations governing space, which are critical to nurturing and governing the space economy as they govern access to space and operation of equipment,” he said

“This is critical, because it takes a long time for these processes to be finalized. Australia has an opportunity to revisit these governance frameworks with a clear mandate to enable our space industry to develop. It’s an opportunity, rather than a burden.

The advent of the Agency has boosted confidence and it has solidified Australia as a location where there is strong activity in industry and research and the potential and the people with the desire and the hunger to succeed in space.”

“As most of the people involved in this forum today will know, space is incredibly hard. To be involved in this sector, you need to have resilience, there will be failures and you need to keep pushing on.

Despite its challenging nature – or perhaps because of it – the space sector is very appealing to the next generation of Australians. To help nurture this interest, school students can take part in the 9thAustralian Space Forum through the Space Passport program.

This enables students to talk directly to companies involved in the space industry, and to find out about career opportunities and school and tertiary pathways. Nearly 100 students are taking part in today’s event.

“Once the Agency was established, we had so many calls from parents wanting to know what courses their children could do to start a career in the space industry,” Mr Price says

“In response, SASIC began a work placement program last year and got hundreds of applicants. Merit based application, resulting in placements for about 30 students.

“It’s a tremendous illustration of how committed and positive this industry is – those universities and companies all got together in a matter of days and agreed to be part of the program.

“It shows the Incredible entrepreneurial spirit we have in the Australian space industry.”

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