Space: Australia’s next Moon shot

By Nicholas Kachel

24 September 2018

3 minute read

Large, round grey object with dimpled surface.

Our space roadmap encourages the growing Australian space sector to join with international partners to adopt a bold challenge — providing technological expertise to help to establish a human base on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Space has always intrigued humankind. Through the ages we’ve been compelled to study and observe our own solar system. Over time, our thirst for knowledge about our Universe hasn’t diminished – in fact, it has propelled us forward to today where the global space industry is booming, estimated to be worth around $US 345 billion.

We’ve just released a Space Industry Roadmap that encourages Australia’s growing domestic space sector to join with international partners in adopting a bold challenge — providing technological expertise to help to establish a human base on the Moon.

With a new space agency to lead the growth and development of the local sector, Australia is on the cusp of an exciting new era in space. This new era will see the development of breakthrough technologies, deeper exploration, and opportunities to grow the domestic ‘space economy’ – on our own planet and beyond.

To the Moon and back

Australia has a few big advantages when it comes to space. Firstly, there’s our world-class capabilities in space-oriented fields, such as satellite and wireless communications, Earth observation data analytics, and advanced sensor and receiver technologies. Everything from the phone in your pocket, to the weekend’s weather report, to how we deal with natural disasters can rely on data gathered from satellites. This reliance is only going to increase, so it’s important we stay at the forefront of technology for these services.

Secondly, there’s the fact that we are a big continent and based in the southern hemisphere. With our vast landmass, and low light and radio frequency interference, we’re perfectly placed to offer satellite monitoring services. The growing number of cube satellites (or cubesats, a type of miniature satellite) and space tourism will make the zone above us a lot busier, so tracking missions, identifying objects, and predicting collisions between spacecraft and debris will become far more important. Oh, and our monitoring capabilities also help with spotting things like near-Earth asteroids.

Finally, humans do still look to travel to the Moon and beyond. No longer just the stuff of science fiction, Australia could one day provide technologies and skills to support robotic missions and make habitats for humans on our celestial neighbours a reality.

Blast off

To make the most of this space, we’ve just released a report on the opportunities for the Australian space industry. Our space roadmap draws on an industry-based assessment of Australia’s natural advantages and the combination of current trends shaping the global space sector. It identifies three broad opportunity areas for Australia:

Space-derived services
Data about Earth – collected by satellites – can be used for a vast range of applications. By building our capabilities in observing Earth from space, satellite communications, and positioning, navigation and timing data, we can grow new service-based businesses that can help with early disaster warning, planning and management, ocean and atmosphere assessments and forecasting, monitoring illegal fishing, and urban planning (to name just a few!)

Tracking space objects
By taking advantage of Australia’s geographic position in the southern hemisphere and our unique geography, we can further our work with international agencies to track objects in space, manage space debris, and enable deep space communication.

Australia is one of few locations where observing and communications systems can complement northern hemisphere facilities to complete the full view of space. This is evidenced in the investments international space agencies continue to make in ground stations located in Australia, including the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex that we operate on NASA’s behalf.

Space exploration and utilisation
Space exploration is an audacious field, providing inspiration and engineering challenges that have attracted the most innovative researchers and explorers for over 60 years. Today, with growing private sector investment and renewed interest in space, several nations are making plans for humans to return to the Moon and to send crewed missions to Mars.

The challenges of extending human presence in space require contributions from many different fields including advanced manufacturing, mining, medicine, agriculture and robotics. By harnessing our diverse industrial and research strengths we can support space exploration and deep space gateway habitats to safely conduct robotic and human missions.

The benefits of growing a domestic space industry extend far beyond ambitious projects, and include fostering new businesses and generating skilled jobs. Technologies developed for the extreme requirements of space can be transferred to Earth-based applications where they benefit us every day, and this ‘new space’ era can also help inspire younger generations to follow career paths in STEM-based sectors.

We hope the new roadmap will provide a high-level guide to opportunity areas for the Australian space industry, and capture the imagination of Australians with the possibilities Australia’s future in space could hold.