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A Victorian home for the Australian Space Agency?

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A Victorian home for the Australian Space Agency?

Alan Duffy

Over half a century ago this nation became only the third in the world to build and launch a satellite from its own territory. Since that time aerospace ambitions in Australia have waxed and waned but with the announcement by the Turnbull Government of an Australian Space Agency, led by former CSIRO-head Dr Megan Clarke, it is clear that we are ready once again as a Nation to take our place in space.

The Victorian Minister for Industry and Employment Ben Carroll as well as Victoria's Lead Scientist Dr Amanda Caples believe that the natural home for this Agency is right here in Melbourne and were good enough to let me launch the bid alongside them, at Swinburne's Eric Ormond Baker Charitable Fund Remote Observing Facility in front of media from every TV, print and radio station. It was an unbelievable experience..! Why the sudden focus on space? 

Well, in the last fifty years there has been a transformation of the space economy, with private investment now a major player driving a global sector worth $1 trillion to the world by 2040. The Space Race is no longer between superpowers, it’s between companies. The change in the nature of space is also reflected in the mission of the Space Agency; it’s not about sending people to space but rather creating jobs for those people back on Earth. 

And there are many jobs to be created; simply by considering the current value of space activities in Australia (~0.8% of the current $420 billion global value) and our share of the world economy (~1.8%) we should be able to add 10 – 20,000 new roles, and $2-3 billion of economic value just to punch at our weight. 

To service a growing global space economy means become an integral part of the global supply chain. As a State we have invested in new advanced manufacturing technologies, known as Industry 4.0, and now have both largest and fastest 3D printer in Australia. These allow us to rapidly build bespoke satellites of our design or provide components for the satellites of others, in particular those industry giants or ‘Primes’. That most major players such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, are already in the state ensures we are well placed to leverage that close connection. Just as exciting the state is home to one fifth of all Australian aerospace companies. We aren’t just home to these space companies but we also train their workforce with a third of the Nation’s graduates in ICT, Science & Engineering from Victoria’s universities. 

The State of Victoria can operate in this new Space economy with an unmatched industrial scale, and will focus on this application of our capabilities in advanced manufacturing and data science. By having the Australian Space Agency established in Victoria those benefits would be more easily connected to international industry for the benefit of all Australia. However, Victoria doesn’t operate in exclusion to the other States and Territories, and would strongly collaborate with their unique strengths. An example would Western Australia’s world-recognised ground receiving stations that can take the data from satellites that might be constructed here but launched in the Northern Territory. Importantly that collaboration is already underway, with the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre between global companies and the universities in South Australia and Victoria. universities to advance our technologies in the entire space domain.