Australia could have a base on the Moon 'by the mid-2030s'

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The CSIRO wants Australia to go to the Moon.

Not only that, it wants Australia’s new space agency to build a base on the Moon, and launch manned missions to Mars from a staging post right here in Australia.

All of which could be fully operational by the “mid-2030s”.

This was all announced yesterday on the Gold Coast for the launch of the CSIRO’s space roadmap “for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia”.

The Australian Space Agency was officially opened for business on July 1 this year, and the CSIRO has wasted little time in putting together the report on what it believes the agency can deliver for its country.

In the section “Space Industry Trends”, the CSIRO notes:

The next frontiers of the space industry are opening up, including space-based tourism, energy, manufacturing, asteroid mining, deep space missions and living ‘off-world’ in closed-loop systems.

The innovation that will drive our ambition to colonise the Moon and beyond would also be “transformative to on-Earth industries through diffusion of innovations into everyday life” and enable “completely new disruptive industries”.

Also of interest, especially in light of US President Donald Trump’s push for a “Space Force”, is that the CSIRO notes “the possibility of conflict in outer space is growing”, as more nations push critical security and military infrastructure into orbit.

“Access to previously free and open data from global Earth observing satellites could be diminished due to sovereignty considerations,” the report says, and that “presents challenges, but also opportunities for development of Australian capabilities and industry growth”.

There’s a lot to consider in the 28-page report, which identifies key opportunities for growth in areas such as Earth observation, spacecraft tracking, telemetry and control, satellite comms and navigation. But the most eye-catching comes in under Space Exploration and Utilisation, where the CSIRO paints this bold picture of life less than two decades from now:

‘It is the mid-2030s – World-class Australian skills and technologies are contributing to international exploration and colonisation efforts across many specialised areas’

Here’s where it says Australian companies have the chance to build a future for themselves, and generations to come:

Image: CSIRO

It starts here in Australia, with the “Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway”, a staging post we can build in the 2020s from which to send lunar surface shuttles and launch human missions to Mars.

The goal is to have the lunar shuttle service operating by the mid-2030s, but the first passengers are more likely to be robots.

They’ll be responsible for finding or building suitable habitats, possibly in lava tubes under the surface of the Moon, using 3D printing technology and materials mined from the lunar surface.

There were numerous opportunities to develop technology to do that, with the future need for water, oxygen and food all but inevitable.

On hand to add some weight to the vision was the former chairman of the European Space Agency, Dave Williams, now the CSIRO’s executive director for the Digital, National Facilities and Collections group.

“In the US, Trump has declared that a moon base is to take priority over a Mars base,” Williams said.

“This is because you need a moon base to get to Mars is the argument coming out.

“And if you are going to build a base, you are going to need the support systems to enable that base to survive.”

Picture: Fleet Space Technologies

New Industry Minister Karen Andrews told the conference Australia’s fledgling space industry already employed some 10,000 people across 380 companies, and was worth $3.9 billion a year to the economy.

But there was still plenty of room to grow.

“Our share of the US$345 billion global space market is just 0.8 per cent,” Andrews said. “And we are determined to see this grow.

“That said, we have what it takes to gain a greater share of that market and build a new industry for our nation. The goal is to triple the size of the domestic industry by 2030, adding up to $12 billion to our economy.”

Living on the Moon and launching missions to Mars is heady stuff, but Australian Space Agency head Dr Megan Clark — a former CSIRO director — told those gathered at the Space Research Conference that the whole point of the Australian Space Agency was to let future space industry innovators know their dreams were being taken seriously.

“It is about creating aspirations and provoking dreams of going to the moon and exploring our universe,” Clark said.

“We want our young people to shoot for the stars. We want our Space Agency to inspire them to appreciate the importance of studying STEM and understanding the opportunities it can lead to.”

You can access the full report here.

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