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Space for growth: prospects for Australia-US civil space cooperation

Innovation International cooperation International trade Strategic planning Space industry

The space sector is undergoing rapid geostrategic, technological and industrial change and will be critical to Australian national security and economic growth in coming decades.

New actors, like private commercial enterprises, are driving novel technologies and industries in space. The unshackling of the space industry from largely government-derived sources of revenue has helped accelerate this growth. Government space programs and agencies are commissioning more services and products from the commercial space industry, while continuing to focus on high-risk scientific missions. As more nations have invested in modernising their military forces and as access to sophisticated space capabilities has become cheaper, the spectre of accidental and deliberate conflict in space is rising.

Australia and the United States have a growing confluence of interests in space:

  • Australia is setting up its first space agency with the goal of developing its civil and commercial space sectors.
  • The United States, under increasing pressure from competitors, is showing a greater interest in allies becoming more space capable.
  • Australia’s close relationship with the United States, as the world’s largest space economy, is a strategic asset that can be leveraged through a whole-of-government strategy on space and space cooperation with Washington.
  • The dominance of the United States in space is under question. Allies like Australia can help to mitigate vulnerabilities by providing better space situational awareness (SSA), diversifying existing capabilities, and supporting diplomatic efforts to establish international agreements on safe and responsible space behaviour.

Australia’s new space agency should consider establishing projects with the United States that help build-out Australia’s domestic space industry and align with US strategic goals. Australia should:

  • Co-develop an advanced space situational awareness network with both national security and commercial applications.
  • Establish a competitive small satellite program using US launch capabilities, focusing on innovative small and medium enterprises.
  • Aim to establish a joint innovation centre that would focus on space capabilities and industry
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