The first of July 2018 marks an important day for Australia’s quest to become a more important actor in space, with the creation of an Australian Space Agency under the leadership of Megan Clark. For the first time, Australia looks to have direction, coordination and focus in its endeavours beyond earth. Understanding what this means for Australia is the focus of this report.
The decision to boldly go into space marks an important step forward for Australia, which traditionally has been content to be dependent on foreign providers for space capability. For much of the period from the 1960s onwards, Australia adopted a supporting role in space—providing a suitable piece of real estate for ground facilities, supplying skilled personnel and managing the data coming from the satellites. However, we’ve not done anything significant in terms of developing sovereign capability in terms of ‘the space segment.’
Now, the stage looks set for Australia to take a more ambitious path that could eventually lead to the launching of our own satellites from an Australian launch site. At the same time, there’s a huge opportunity to supercharge Australia’s utilisation of space capabilities on earth, particularly through innovative use of ‘Space 2.0’ capability.
So, it’s important that in parallel to funding a space agency, the federal government is also seeking to propel the growth of the Australian space industry sector to make it competitive with a rapidly growing global market, of which currently we have a less than 1% share. There are very clear implications for boosting Australia’s space industry in terms of stimulating a new high technology sector of the economy, generating rapid and significant jobs growth, enhancing outreach to the next generation of Australian space leaders through education in STEM, and offering new national capabilities in line with government requirements.
For defence and national security, space is a vital domain. Space is no longer a pristine global common that’s a sanctuary from warfare. In the 21st century, it’s recognised to be a warfighting domain that’s ‘contested’ through the growing threat of adversaries’ counter-space capability. It’s also increasingly ‘congested’ as a result of growing space debris. Finally, space is increasingly ‘competitive’ as new approaches to space activities such as Space 2.0 see the acquisition of space capabilities by a broader range of state and non-state actors. Space is no longer dominated by only the major powers, and the impact of the private sector is clearly visible every time SpaceX launches—and then lands—one of its rockets.
Ensuring access to space is vital to Australia’s defence capability and to our approach to military tasks. Without an ability to access space capabilities—either our own, or those of an ally—our ability to fight and win information-based warfare and undertake ‘multi-domain operations’ is severely limited, and our adversaries are better placed to impose costs or even military defeat against our forces.