The Australian government will be establishing a national space agency once its review into the space industry is complete, it said on Monday. "A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry," Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Michaelia Cash said in a statement. "The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement." In July, the Australian government launched a review into the nation's space industry with the goal of developing a 10-year plan to grow the sector and boost its global competitiveness. An expert reference group -- chaired by former CSIRO CEO Dr Megan Clark -- was selected by the government to perform the review, which builds on the principles set out in Australia's Satellite Utilisation Policy (2013) and the findings from the recently completed review of the Space Activities Act 1998.
While there's plenty of talk and excitement over Australia's forthcoming space agency, there are still plenty of unanswered questions over the details. SEE ALSO: Elon Musk will give a big SpaceX talk about Mars this week. Fortunately, someone out there has come up with the best possible name for the agency, which we sorely, hopefully, wish was true: A.R.S.E., or Australian Research and Space Exploration. A.R.S.E. has been making some waves on the internet recently, with its own Facebook and Instagram pages, but again, it's merely an amusing riff on the upcoming space agency and not what it'll be actually called. "Australian Research & Space Exploration is an independent campaign designed to promote the space program and all related efforts in Australia.
A "strong sovereign capability in space" would make Australia a stronger partner in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance with the US, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand, according to Colonel (Ret'd) Pamela Melroy, a former US Air Force test pilot and NASA Space Shuttle commander. "Australia needs to embrace this, because you're going to have a much more muscular role in the Five Eyes as a result," Melroy told the conference "Building Australia's Strategy for Space", which was organised by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in Canberra last week. One example is space surveillance, which involves the detection, tracking, cataloging, and identification of objects in space. With new systems soon to come online, such as Space Fence, the ground-based Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) in Western Australia, and commercial systems, Melroy says Australia should not simply be passing on their raw data to the US. "Australia can and should develop a domestic capability to generate and provide processed information -- not data, information -- that supports its own defence force in real time, but is also of much greater value to our Five Eyes partners," she said.
Dr Andy Thomas has called out Richard Branson's bid to take passengers into orbit as being "dead-end" and "dangerous". The remarks from the former NASA astronaut come after Branson's Virgin Galactic organisation last week celebrated the successful launch of a rocket plane into space for the first time. After last week's successful flight, Branson said his group would now press on with its test program. "Today we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good," he said. While Thomas supported what Branson was doing, essentially "spinning off" the capability to launch satellites, he was less enthusiastic about the idea of taking tourists into orbit.
The federal government announced during the 2018-19 Budget that it would be committing AU$41 million to the creation of the Australian Space Agency. After officially launching the initiative with an initial AU$15 million in funding to "kick-start" its investment last month, the government announced the agency would be led by former head of the CSIRO Dr Megan Clark for its establishment and first year of operation. Although the Australian Space Agency will begin operation from July 1, 2018, it is yet to have a place to call home. The boasting rights to the agency will be determined during a six-month bidding war between states and territories, with a decision expected by the end of the year. Western Australia has the element of physical space on its side, and in a report commissioned by the state government, it was said WA's geographic advantages have been reinforced by investments in communications and computational infrastructure, and access to technical expertise.