LIFT-OFF: Australia's tech industry is over the moon about the new national space agency

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Australian technology industry figures are thrilled by the federal government’s announcement today that it plans to establish a space agency.

After lobbying from the industry and the scientific community, the government kicked off a review in July to study the viability of setting up a space agency — but acting minister for industry, innovation and science Michaelia Cash made a surprise announcement on Monday morning that it had now committed to establishing one.

The review group’s mission has now pivoted to writing a charter for the government organisation, to be included in the final report due March next year.

One of the most prominent voices in the space tech industry and founder of Adelaide satellite startup Fleet, Flavia Tata Nardini, welcomed the news and said it showed a “shift in attitude” by the federal government.

“I’m so excited about this development and what it will do for the space industry in Australia!” she said.

“The federal government is now starting to take the potential of space, and Australia’s burgeoning role in it, seriously. Space is a $400 billion market globally, and it’s only going to continue growing as more industries look to the skies for their future prosperity. A space agency enables Australia to take a bigger slice of this market with confidence.”

Nardini said Australia currently contributes about 1% towards the $400 billion of annual global economic activity generated by the space industry, but that share would grow “significantly” through a cohesive strategy set by a national agency, as well as stop the brain drain.

“Increased support from the government and a national space agency will also make it easier for local innovation and space businesses to stay local, ultimately fuelling our own national prosperity,” she said.

“No longer will space startups like Fleet, Gilmour or Saber Astronautics have to rely 100% on overseas and private parties for support.”

The current reliance on other countries was also a point former Australian NASA astronaut Andy Thomas made earlier this year.

“We need a national agency that speaks for the country and with ministerial authority. Without that Australia is doomed to be forever dependent on other nations for its space-related security, its space-related economy, its space-related defense and its space-related environmental assessments,” he said in July.

Business Insider contacted the Space Industry Association of Australia for comment, but had not heard back at the time of writing.

Petra Andrén, who heads up Sydney deep-tech incubator Cicada Innovations, said Australia always had great talent but a space agency would help turn ideas into commercial ventures.

“Programs like the Space Agency will be crucial to helping these deep technologies develop real-world applications on a global — and in this case extra-global — level.”

“This will take the form of a very long value-added chain, starting with research and development actors and manufacturers of space hardware, and ending with the providers of space-enabled products and services to final users. It will ensure collaboration between public and private actors involved in developing and providing space-enabled products and services, and should build on some of Australia’s pre-existing space capabilities.”

Andrén mentioned that she already has startups at Cicada that could benefit from the space agency.

“These companies have or have had collaborations with NASA along their journey, and are developing products and services that could have applications in the space economy, such as visualisation and interpretation of data from satellite images, and even growing food — “terraforming” — in hostile environments.”

Meir Moalem, chief executive of British ASX-listed company Sky & Space Global, said that space is one of the most “fruitful” sectors for governments to invest in.

“The space industry is like a locomotive pulling forward the state’s education, R&D, industry, financial ecosystem, and overall, the economy,” he said.

“I’m not an Australian citizen so I don’t like to comment on what government’s should or shouldn’t be doing, but overall space is an area that we should be developing worldwide so this is a positive announcement for Australia.”

The local space industry currently employs about 11,000 Australians and is worth about $4 billion a year to the nation.

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