When Elon Musk turns up people generally want to listen, especially when he is talking about his “Big F…… Rocket” and his desire to put a million people on Mars. He’s also the chap behind the world’s largest lithium ion battery recently installed in Jamestown. So when he showed up in Adelaide for the recent 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), South Australians were joined by a global audience wanting hear what he had to say.
Hosting IAC was a watershed moment for Adelaide and South Australia in a number of ways beyond the star power of Musk. The Turnbull Government used the conference to announce a national space agency. South Australian senator Simon Birmingham officially announced the government’s plans at the opening of the conference, saying the agency “will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement with so many of you across the world’s space industries”.
Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Michaelia Cash says it is “crucial” that Australia is part of the growing global space industry.
“A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry,” she says.
“The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement.”
The move aims at cashing in on the global $420 billion aeronautical industry, which could see our local space industry which is worth around $4 billion increase fivefold in 20 years. South Australia is looking for a greater role in shaping Australia’s new focus on space, with the State already home to more than 60 space-related organisations, in addition to the newly established SA Space Industry Centre.
The South Australia and ACT governments recently signed a memorandum of understanding on the matter, teaming up on a proposal for a space agency to be headquartered in Canberra but with an operational node in Adelaide.
The space industry also dovetails into the State’s burgeoning defence industry with Adelaide-based defence firm Nova Systems working with aerospace and defence companies on systems technology, making it a major player in shaping the future of Australia’s new national space agency.
The conference has already secured some promising legacies; Adelaide SPACE start-up Fleet announced a partnership with French space agency CNES to track and support Fleet’s first nanosatellites once launched. Italy’s largest privately-owned space company SITAEL signed a letter of intent with local start-up Inovar to jointly establish a multi-million dollar company in South Australia dedicated to the development and integration of nano-micro and mini-satellite based innovative satellites and space mission concepts. This includes deployment and operation of satellite ground station. Interestingly, South Australian university applications this year for aerospace engineering and technology are up 19 per cent.
Former Space Shuttle commander Pamela Melroy also announced she will migrate to Adelaide to work with Nova Systems. UniSA, the International Space University and the SA Government have signed a Memorandum of Intent for the specific implementation of the yearly Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program. It includes a study for the development of short courses in the field of space entrepreneurship and a study for the creation of a joint Institute in Adelaide to create a sustainable base for joint activities in the space field.
“This conference has set the benchmark for IAC events and Adelaide, Australia should be justifiably proud of the legacies it will leave,” says Brett Biddington, chief executive of IAC 2017.