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A startup entrepreneur just urged the Australian government to create a space agency

ASKAP antennas at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory in Western Australia. Picture: CSIRO

An Adelaide entrepreneur has written an open letter to demand the Australian government establish a space agency so that the country isn’t left behind in a booming new sector.

Aerospace engineer and founder of satellite tech firm Fleet, Flavia Tata Nardini, said that the world is currently “witnessing the birth of a new space era” defined by “small, scalable technologies and agile mindsets” and that Australia was at a crossroads.

“It is a sector up for grabs, but not for long. Once it clicks into gear, the world’s biggest economic drivers will depend on those who fuel it to grow,” she said.

“If Australia doesn’t stake an official position in the sky, we’ll fall behind other developed countries in the innovation race. Our future prosperity is at risk. We must support, harness, and drive the incredible talent and innovative spirit of Australian aerospace forward.”

While the local space industry already employed 11,000 Australians and is worth about $4 billion a year, Nardini said it can only go so far without the leadership of a national organisation.

“The foundations a national space agency will lay, will enable our nation to continue to prosper in the next 20 to 50 years,” she said.

Fleet CEO Flavia Nardini. Source: supplied

“An Australian space agency would enable a strategy for a complex and currently fractured industry. It will unite our space goals with that of the world’s, foster collaboration between nations, and spur on innovation that will serve tomorrow’s businesses — in addition to greater exploration and study of the universe.”

Nardini cited New Zealand’s example in setting up a “small” space agency last year then reaching a massive milestone last month with the launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket off North Island.

The Australian government is currently reviewing the Space Activities Act 1998, which prompted the entrepreneur to speak out.

New space technologies would soon introduce “mass-scale” productive reforms in all sorts of industries, according to Nardini, such as “mining, logistics, technology, farming, mobility, connectivity and environmental care”. But local space tech companies were in a funding crisis without national leadership.

“Many space tech startups simply can’t afford to stay in Australia as they face impossibly competitive challenges against foreign businesses already backed by major agencies,” she said.

“If they can’t afford to stay, several will leave and plant roots where they can receive government support and funding. This migration has already stripped Australia of locally-led innovation, including the brilliant talent and economic value it fosters.”

Fleet, however, was fortunate enough to first receive seed funding from the South Australian government, then raise a $5 million series A round in April backed by Blackbird Ventures and Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures.

This has allowed the startup to remain in Adelaide while developing relationships with foreign space agencies to deploy its satellite technology facilitating the Internet of Things. Nardini said this showed Australia was “a perfectly positioned nation” to take advantage of the new era.

“We already play a notable role in the space exploration of other countries: from NASA’s deep space tracking facility at Tidbinbilla in Canberra; the European Space Agency’s New Norcia in Western Australia; the Square Kilometre Array, a huge radio telescope project set to be built in Australia and South Africa in 2018; and our countless satellite dishes pinging messages from all corners of the solar system.”

Fleet was founded in 2015 by Nardini and fellow engineer Dr Matthew Tetlow, along with entrepreneur Matt Pearson. Their business is targeting industries such as agriculture, logistics and mining with a nanosatellite network to connect sensors and devices worldwide.

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