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.
“Western Australia’s southern hemisphere location and latitude were ideal for space situational awareness and networks that required global coverage of space assets. They create significant opportunities for space situational awareness, optical communications, astronomy, space operations, and defence space applications,” the state explained.
WA also has the $1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is slated the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed.
Touted as the world’s largest science project, involving 20 countries and covering over 1 million square metres of data collection area, the SKA has its central cores of operation in South Africa and Western Australia, with its central computer alone boasting the processing power of about 100 million PCs.
While the SKA is nothing to be scoffed at, South Australia has an astronaut on its side.
Dr Andy Thomas this week endorsed South Australia’s space credentials, declaring it the most appropriate state to host the space agency.
Thomas, who worked for NASA after gaining his PhD in mechanical engineering in 1978 from the University of Adelaide, said the state is well-positioned to support a burgeoning Australian space industry.
“South Australia’s got the heritage, the technical resources, the educational background, the technical infrastructure, the corporate infrastructure the industrial base,” he told reporters on Thursday. “I think we’ve got a very good chance.”
SA Premier Steven Marshall said the state would be putting in a “compelling and competitive” bid to host the agency.
“This state has enormous capability already in terms of space sector, but also enormous potential going forward,” he said. “We are the logical place to bring the national space agency.”
Also with an astronaut at tow, New South Wales wants the agency and it is using its reputation down under as the state that gets everything first to its advantage.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Dr Paul Scully-Power, who was selected by NASA in the early 80s to be a payload specialist on the 13th Space Shuttle for eight days and 133 Earth orbits, will be helping the state showcase why it’s the ideal home.
“There’s no question that NSW is best placed to host [the agency], and there’s no-one better suited than our nation’s first astronaut to lead our bid,” Berejiklian said last month when announcing the state’s bid.
Victoria also wants to host the agency, and while it doesn’t have the world’s largest telescope or an astronaut to help its argument, it is currently home to some of the world’s biggest names in aerospace — Lockheed Martin, Thales, Boeing, and BAE Systems.
The state’s campaign to make Victoria the home of the Australian Space Agency is focused on being well-positioned both commercially and geographically to be the “physical centre and a focal point for coordinating national and international collaboration on space and attracting global investment”.
The Northern Territory has also displayed interest in hosting the agency.
According to the federal government, the global space economy is worth around $345 billion, and growing at nearly 10 percent each year; the Commonwealth believes Australia has a “fantastic opportunity” to triple the size of its domestic space industry to up to AU$12 billion by 2030.