Thursday, August 19, 2010

Space and the Australian Election

The Australian Election is just around the corner and as Australians prepare to vote, Space, whilst not being the number one topic, is increasingly gaining influence. As it is not covered well in the main stream media, I thought I'd pen a few thoughts of my own on the issue.

Where were we at the last election?

The Australian Space Sector had been in the wilderness for around a decade. The Howard government had chosen to take a "hands-off" approach to the sector, and besides the Space Licensing office for regulation of space activities, there was very little government involvement. We also had the start of the "Australia: Lost in Space?" Senate report, but otherwise, there was not much to talk of as far as the Australian Government is concerned.

Where are we now?

Since the election, we've had the release of the Senate Report, the Defence White Paper with several relevant Space announcements, the start of the Australian Space Research Program, the setup of the Space Policy Unit, a new website, the announcement of 2 Ka Band Communications satellites as part of the NBN, and the formation of the Space Industry Innovation Council. Not to mention, many, many new space projects in Australia through the ASRP, several new space courses including the new ISU course in Australia, and the recent landing of the Hayabusa probe at Woomera.

When you think about it, that is absolutely HUGE progress in 3 years since the last election. From where we stood then, it is hard to believe that so much has been achieved!

What does the future hold?

The next term of the federal government holds several key events for the Australian Space Industry.

1. Australian National Space Policy
        The Space Policy Unit is rapidly working on developing an Australian Space Policy. Under a labour  government, it is probably likely to continue it's current course, however under a liberal government, it might be reviewed or cancelled.

2. The announcement of the SKA
        The location of the SKA facility will be announced in 2012. I would suggest both sides of politics would be working hard to secure this for Australia, as it will bring massive economic, development and scientific benefits to the country. I'll rate the two parties even on this one.

3. The potentail for 2 new NBNCo Satellites
        NBNCo is a labour policy. If labour gets in, my bet is before the next election, there will be two half built Ka Band Satellites ready by the next election (if they're not already launched, or timed to launch near the next election!). If the libs get in, perhaps Optus will pick up the slack, or maybe NewSat, but it's unlikely that we'll see the same level of activity or investment as we will under NBNCo.

4. Steps Closer to an Australian Space Agency
        This one is perhaps the hardest to answer. I would guess that under a liberal government, there would be almost no chance of a Space Agency in the next term of government. If Labour gets in expect steps in the right direction, but perhaps an Australian Space Agency may need to wait until the next term.

So overall, I think it would be fair to say that Labour is a much better vote if you want to see progress in Space in Australia. They've achieved amazing things in the sector in just 3 small years, and for that they should be congratulated. I hope by the next election, we can see a lot more runs on the board for Space, and even some strong bi-partisan support for Space activities.

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