Australia commits to establish space agency with no budget, plan, name, deadline …

Mission plan: retrieve lost votes from deep within black hole of democratic disillusionment

Australia's government has committed to starting a space agency, but there are no details about its mission other than a vague commitment to helping industry.

The government has already initiated a Review of Australia's Space Industry Capability. Acting minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, today announced that “Feedback from the extensive consultation process has overwhelmingly shown the need for the establishment of a national space agency.”

The Review was announced in July and formally launched consultation in mid-September, having already staged preliminary chats that reached 400 people.

“The Reference Group will now develop a charter for the space agency for inclusion in the wider strategy,” the senator announced.

Cash's statement says the agency “will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement”, but there's no detail on the agency's name, budget, start date or anything else that would tell us what it will actually do. The fact that its future existence was first revealed to media in the city of Adelaide suggests one mission: help revive the city's economy, which has struggled since auto-makers left in recent years (along with many votes for the governing Liberal Party).

There are more hints about what's going on in the Reference Group's current Terms of Reference [PDF], which calls for “developing a strategic framework for the Australian space sector that supports leadership, innovation, opportunity and entrepreneurship across the sector along with our broader national interests.”

The document also pledges to “specifically address” the following issues:

  • identifying Australia’s current industry capability and areas of comparative advantage for Australia to develop,
  • technologies and practices that promote innovation in both the downstream (users of space technologies) and upstream (providers of space technologies) elements of space activities, particularly in areas of niche capability and competitive advantage,
  • Australia’s level of regional engagement and international collaboration, including identifying critical future and existing partnerships, identifying capability gaps to support the global competitiveness of Australian firms in the civil space sector,
  • strategies to promote Australian firms engaged in the civil space sector, both domestically and internationally,
  • risks and opportunities, including ongoing access to space data and associated infrastructure essential to our national interests,
  • alignment with other sectors and Australian Government priorities, including Defence and cyber security, and meeting Australia’s international obligations, and
  • the most effective institutional arrangements to support the strategic direction of Australia’s space industry.

Another Reference Group document, an Issues Paper [PDF], notes that “There have been calls for Australia to establish a ‘space agency’ to increase space activities and provide a recognisable point of contact/coordination/funding”. The paper does not, however, conclude that the nation needs such an agency. Indeed, the Issues Paper mentions canvassing models for advancing Australia's space-related industries rather than recommending an approach.

The Register mentions those documents because it appears that either the Reference Group's consultations to date have so unanimously recommended the creation of a space agency that any other recommendation would be folly, or because the contents of its output have been decided in advance.

Whatever the reason for today's announcement, there's zero evidence Australia hopes to build launch capacity or has any missions in mind.

Vulture South therefore awaits details on Australia's efforts with great interest and hopes that the agency does more than sprinkle stardust on an industry development plan. ®

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