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An astronaut’s view of Australia’s proposed space agency and industry

Space Industry

Former NASA Astronaut and Space Shuttle commander Pamela Melroy says Australia needs to find its own niche in the fast moving space industry.

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Melroy, who flew Space Shuttle missions in 2000 and 2002 and commanded a third in 2007, says the recently announced Australian Space Agency is excellent news for the country but the industry will need to move fast to make up time.

“It will be very important that Australia is a fast follower,” She says.

“What I mean by that is rather than have the infrastructure like old giant launch centres and satellite facilities, and processes that other countries have had for years, Australia can leapfrog both in technology and process and take advantage of this new commercial market really quickly.”

Melroy, who is now working with South Australian professional services business Nova Systems, says the newly formed Space Agency needs to quickly find Australia’s place in the US$300 billion global industry.

“I think as the industry moves on, human space flight and human exploration could certainly be something that Australia might eventually get in to but that’s not the goal in the near term.

“The goal in the near term is to build up the space commerce and the space business inside Australia. It’s about space economic development. It’s a hugely fast growing sector in the world and Australia should not be left behind,” says the retired United States Air Force colonel.

“But also, Australia has to have the industrial base to support participating in that and not just being a user of the services.

“Australia can’t do everything. If you look at most other countries they’re in the same position. They pick a few technology areas and capabilities and then they compete globally and it’s well known if you are looking for a certain thing you go to that country because that’s what they do.”

Former United States Air Force colonel Pamela Melroy (centre) before her last flight commanding Space Shuttle Discovery in 2007. Picture courtesy of NASA.

Melroy has been friends with the founders of Nova Systems Jim Whalley and Peter Nikoloff for years and was attracted to work in South Australia by the idea that Australia might start a Space Agency.

“I love Australia and I thought this was an opportunity to try and help something happen that I think is very important,” she says.

The Australian government has pledged A$26 million over four years to establish the national space agency and has appointed former CSIRO boss Megan Clark to set it up. The agency is expected to follow the guidelines an expert reference group recommended, including “identifying Australia’s current industry capability and areas of comparative advantage for Australia to develop”.

The South Australian capital Adelaide hosted the International Astronautical Congress in 2017 and is positioning itself to play a major role in the nation’s emerging space industry through the South Australian Space Industry Centre.

Melroy helped gather information from space industries for the reference group and says people need to understand that most businesses are impacted by space.

“It is important to understand that space is not this distant, science-y, kinda thing that happens in other countries but in fact the technologies are impacting businesses today,” says Melroy.

“For example, remote sensing, communications, quantum computing – there are a lot of technologies that are beginning to impact businesses. The capacity to look at the Earth every single day impacts a lot of businesses.

“The idea is to make people understand that space industries are actually about life on Earth and businesses on Earth and they can help in ways that people probably don’t understand yet.”

Melroy says access to off-the-shelf technologies means the space industry is shifting from something only governments can do to something that industry is capable of participating in and building entire new business models around.

“That’s the big change. There has been a huge impact globally of the rise of this commercial space and it’s very exciting to watch.”

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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