Sunday, December 18, 2011

Space Minister Kim Carr Gone in Ministerial Shake-up

In the December 12 Ministerial shake-up of the Gillard Government, Space Minister Kim Carr has been moved from the Minister for Innovation (and in charge of the Space Policy Unit) to the Minister for Manufacturing and Defence Materiel.

In his time as Minister for Space, Australia has seen a transformation in the space landscape, and has seen a dramatic growth and increased interested over this period. Moreover, from all reports, Minister Carr was well respected within the Space Community, and showed a genuine interest and understanding of the topic.

It is understood that Minister Greg Combet will take over the responsibility for Minister for Industry and Innovation, and with that, will be the responsibility for Space Activities in Australia.

Thank you Minister Carr for your success and contributions to the field of Space in Australia over the last four years.

We look forward to working with the new Minister for Space, Minister Combet!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Phobos Grunt made contact with ESA station in Perth

ESA recently managed to make contact with the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was intended to be on its way to Mars, but is unfortunately stuck in Low Earth Orbit.

The contact was made through the ESA ground station at the Perth International Telecommunications Centre on the 22nd of November. 

 The ESA 15m antenna Ground Station in Perth (Image: ESA)

In the days preceding the contact, the 15m diameter dish was modified by adding a ‘feedhorn antenna’ on the side of the main dish, to allow very-low power signals over a wide sky angle, due to the relatively unknown nature of the orbit, as well as the fact that the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft is optimised to receive only low transmit power signals as expected on the mission to Mars.

 Modifications made to the main dish at the Perth Ground Station (Image: ESA)

In making contact, telecommands from the Russian Mission control were transmitted, with hope that the mission could be recovered.

Unfortunately, since this contact by the Perth Station, no additional contacts have been made, with the window to send the mission to Mars now closed. ESA has also now had to re-task its Perth ground station to support other missions. It is likely that the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, with predictions of re-entry between lat December 2011 and late February 2012.  

Two US – Australia Space Agreements Extended

The recent visit of the President of the United States of America Barack Obama to Australia saw two space agreements renewed, continuing the Australian / US cooperation in Space. NASA and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science and Research (DIISR) have announced their intention to extend two bilateral space agreements that would otherwise expire in 2012.

The first, the Space Vehicle Tracking and Communications Facilities Agreement (1980), is for CSIRO to operate the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC) – one of NASA’s three main global deep space communications facilities. The updated agreement will come into force on the 26th of February 2012, and is extended until Feb 26, 2014. The exchange of notes can be found here and here.

The second agreement is the Scientific Ballooning Agreement (2006) to allow NASA and Australian partners (CSIRO, UNSW etc) to develop civil payloads and technology for NASA high altitude balloon missions, building upon agreements on scientific ballooning agreements since 1984. The agreement also allows Australian scientists to be involved in the NASA ballooning campaigns, with each balloon campaign that NASA undertakes is estimated to contribute $5 Million to the Australian economy. The treaty exchange of notes can be found here, with the National Interest Analysis is here with the agreement to be renewed on the 12 June 2012 after expiry of the current agreement.

I note that both analysis highlight that NASA has spent ‘in excess of $740 million’ on space-related activities in Australia since 1960 – that’s a sizable sum of money!

Monday, November 7, 2011

China uses Australian Space Tracking Station

The South Morning China Post in Hong Kong is reporting that China has both acquired and used a space tracking station in Dongara, Western Australia for the recent Shenzhou VIII Mission.

Space Boomerang understands that the Dongara facility is actually owned and operated by the Universal Space Network - a U.S. Based subsidiary of the Sweedish Space Corporation (SSC). The site itself has two main antenna's for TT&C and Satellite Data Downlink, supporting S-Band, X-Band and Ku-Band services. It is also hosted next to the Yarragadee / MOBLAS-5 facility that is run by Electro-Optic Systems (EOS) for Geoscience Australia.

The South Morning China Post article focuses on the fact that China has managed to acquire a space tracking station in Australia, a major U.S. ally with major space and tracking facilities of its own in Australia.

It is understood that the Chinese were renting the site from SSC, which is in fact a regular practice, with SSC's customers for the Universal Space Network including NASA, ESA, CNES, JAXA, KARI and a number of other global space companies and agencies, and Chinese use of the facility is a welcome and positive development. The reports do not seem to indicate that a dedicated tracking antenna or facility has been developed and installed for sole use of the Chinese, although it is likely that China has provided some of its own dedicated equipment for use at the station.

It is good to see Australia play a positive role in Civilian Space development, as it provides a unique geographic location that is valuable for many satellite tracking and communications activities. China is one of the latest countries to take advantage of this situation, and Australia should continue to foster the development of the civilian and peaceful use of space with many international partners.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Geoscience Australia publishes landmark Australian Earth Observation Needs Paper

Geoscience Australia has recently undertaken a significant amount of work looking into exactly what Earth Observation data from space that Australia needs up to 2015.

As a result, Geoscience Australia has just published a landmark paper called "Continuity of Earth Observation Data for Australia - Operational Requirements to 2015 for Lands, Coasts and Oceans", which you can download for free here.

It is a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the Australian governments use of Earth Observation Data from space, and provides a snapshot of the current risks of Australia facing a shortfall of data before 2015.

Whilst the entire report is worth reading in detail, I can highly recommend taking a look at the summary sections, as well as the sections on 'economic value' and 'applications and usage of EOS'.

I thought it would be interesting to reproduce the "key points" summary of the document here (copyright from Geoscience Australia):

1. Earth Observations from Space (EOS) data have become pivotal to most environmental monitoring activities being undertaken by federal and state governments in Australia.
2. Australia is totally reliant on foreign satellites for EOS data.
3. Of the 22 EOS sensors currently being used for operational programs in Australia, 19 (86%) are expected to cease functioning by 2015.
4. Australia has not secured access to any future space-based sensors that are relevant to observing the Australian land mass and its coastal regions.
5. Alternate, non satellite-based sources of data do not exist for most types of space-based EOS data, especially those used for environmental monitoring programs.
6. In contrast with the projected rapidly decreasing access to EOS data, Australia’s EOS requirements are expected to increase significantly over the next decade. To support a sample set of 91 operational government programs, the total annual EOS data storage requirements in 2015 were conservatively estimated at 1.2 PB per year. This represents a twentyfold increase on current annual EOS data storage. These estimates do not include meteorological applications, research and development activities, or new sensor technologies.
7. Two data types, medium resolution optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), are most at risk of data gaps before 2015 for land and marine applications.
8. Data continuity for low and high resolution optical data, and for passive microwave data, is also of concern, but improved access to these data types has a lower priority due to the availability of alternative data sources and/or current levels of data usage in land and coastal applications.
9. Urgent action is needed to ensure that the imminent and potentially damaging EOS data gaps are not realised.
10. Australia’s participation in the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) and ESA’s Sentinel missions would significantly reduce the risk of the projected EOS data gaps in the high priority data types and should be the focus of immediate action. It should also be a priority to encourage an on-going Landsat program.
11. As a matter of priority Australia needs to formalise agreements with several upcoming EOS missions, and formulate a decadal infrastructure plan to safeguard the supply of EOS data.

Honestly, these key conclusions make you wonder why there is not a higher priority placed on solving these by the government. Perhaps the reason is that until now, there has not yet been a real understanding of the complete picture of Australia's EOS needs, or at least one as comprehensive as this.

It does present us with a sobering picture of the immediate need to address the access issues to the vital earth observation data that is used so widely within Australian governments.

A couple of other quotations from the report that I thought were worth highlighting:

At present, over 70 federal and state organisations regularly acquire and/or utilise EOS data from satellites controlled by China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, UK, USA or the European Commission (Geoscience Australia, 2010).

There is currently no wholistic, national strategy on EOS to ensure that Australia’s data needs will be satisfied into the future, through access to available data sources and/or adequate archiving of current imagery for potential future use, nor is there any strategy to coordinate Australian involvement in international EOS related activities.

The ramifications of these projected data gaps would impact the Australian environment, population and economy, as well as Australia’s international credibility. The GDP contribution of the Australian EOS sector has been valued at $3.3 billion per annum (ACIL Tasman, 2010), with significant increases expected in future years. In light of the current government expenditure on remote sensing of approximately $100 million per annum (Geoscience Australia, 2010), this equates to a return on investment of more than 30 to one. The potential data gaps would jeopardise both current and future economic benefits derived from EOS in Australia.

Quite stunning numbers from an economic perspective - particularly a 30 to one return on investment, although on the flip side, we are potentially risking Billions by not addressing this issue. It also highlights to me that the Australian Government Space interest has essentially been 'drifting' up until the last few years, and that only now are we starting to appreciate the challenges and risks that we face. This is precisely why we need a whole of government approach to solve these issues, as having 70 different federal and state organisations do this independently is absurd.

One observation I do have on the report is that I am surprised that no mention is made of a possible Australian satellite to solve some of the data shortages. Such a satellite allows us to guarantee data continuity that is tailored to Australia's needs, and controlled by our government. It would be a very good way of managing the risks to EOS data, and we could also contribute back to those countries that continue to provide us EOS data.

Now I understand that this paper represents the 'User's needs' document, and doesn't aim to address how these needs should be solved - that is probably best done in a future infrastructure report or as a response to this paper. However, much attention is paid to potential agreements to secure access, so the possibility of a dedicated "Geoscience Australia" satellite could be considered.

Regardless, it is hard to go past the fact that Geoscience Australia has published a widely consulted, well prepared report that will be a strong input into the future Australian Space Policy.

'The Dish' turns 50

The Parkes Observatory (Photo: CSIRO

This week saw the Parkes Observatory (also known as 'The Dish') celebrate 50 years of Operations. One of Australia's most well known science facilities, the Parkes Observatory is famous for its role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing as well as its depiction by the Australian film 'The Dish' in 2000.

The Observatory itself is located in Parkes, NSW, and is a 64m movable radio telescope. Behind the physical dish, there are a series of receivers and processing electronics that have been upgraded over the last 50 years making the Observatory more than 10,000 times more sensitive than when it was built. The Observatory is capable of observing frequency ranges of 0.3 to 43 GHz, and operates 24 hours per day, every day of the year.

The facility itself remains highly popular with tourists, with around 120,000 people visiting the Observatory every year. It is also one of the most successful Radio telescopes in terms of its science output, ranking 3rd in global science paper citations.

Google Australia also marked the celebration with a 'google doodle' for the day.

The Parkes Observatory 50th Birthday Google Doodle (Image: Google)

Lets hope the next 50 years are just as productive and successful for this iconic Australian Science facility.

Happy Birthday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moon Mining: BHP's next frontier?

Australia's BHP Billiton is, by anyone's standard, a big company. In fact, it is the world's largest mining company by revenue, and is one of the world's biggest companies by market capitalisation. In August this year, it announced the biggest profit in Australian corporate history, and most of the investments it announces are spoken about in tens of billions of dollars. In fact, BHP is actually bigger than the economy of many small nations around the world.

They are experts at what they do - "discovery, acquisition, development and marketing of natural resources", and have a strong track record of success.

Recently, the moon has become increasingly attractive from a mining perspective with the discovery of higher concentrations of valuable and sometimes rare minerals.  This year the US Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has helped identify that the Moon has much higher amounts of Titanium Ore than previously expected, together with large quantities of platinum, iron, oxygen and an element known as Helium-3 that is rare on earth but very useful for Nuclear fusion research.

The moon is also known to have deposits of several rare-earth minerals such as Yttrium and Dysprosium, and we now know that the moon contains a small amount of water, that could be very useful for any future mining operation or settlement.

The combined quantity of these minerals has now attracted the attention of some serious entrepreneurs, who are pressing ahead with the business case of a moon mining venture. Moon Express was founded in 2011 by a set of successful silicon valley entrepreneurs, combined with some great space minds to develop a spacecraft that can take a 100kg payload to the surface of the moon, win the Google Lunar X-Prize and to build the business case to mine the moon. Whilst previous start-ups have set such goals and failed, Moon Express was founded by a group of highly successful business people who have money to invest, have received backing and support from NASA, and have already been testing several of the critical technologies required to get to the moon. They are currently looking at a 2013-2014 time frame for their first moon landing -  which is not really that far away!

Meanwhile, back closer to home, BHP Billiton and other major mining companies, are slowly perfecting the ability to operate a mine from a remote location and are turning more and more to robotic technology to run their mines, both of which are ideally suited for a moon mining operation. They have also had a remarkable few years in terms of financial results, and now have the financial reserves to look at a variety of new and major resource opportunities.

Several estimates have suggested a moon mining operation would be in the order of $20 Billion to set up, which  is similar to a medium mine setup cost on earth, and one that BHP Billiton invests on a somewhat regular basis. BHP is also one of the few companies that has the financial strength and technology to actually assess, invest and make a success of such an operation.

In addition, a moon mining venture would open up major scientific and space tourism opportunities, as well as develop a new suite of space technologies that would make the business case even more attractive. Whilst each of these may not be economically viable on their own, together the business case might make sense.

The aim of this article is not to outline the business case for mining the moon, or in fact call for BHP to start mining the moon tomorrow - I understand that this concept is not seriously considered within the mainstream space industry. The idea is rather to provoke some discussion of how we can take some of the best capabilities Australia has, and apply them to a space application to deliver real and sustainable outcomes.

Of course, such a venture will not be possible for the better part of this decade in reality, but I do believe it is time we start thinking about the real business conversation about a moon mine, that comes with a unique set of logistics challenges to say the least.

A venture such as moon mining and settlement will need to deliver financial returns to shareholders over the long term to be sustainable, and I'm not quite sure we're at that point yet. However, in the corridors of the BHP headquarters in Melbourne, is it not time that someone starts paying attention to Moon Mining? The concept has started moving from the science fiction world to the real world, and it will not be long before countries like China and India will have the technologies, resources, and the political motivation to undertake such a venture, with no competitors in the market and no other nation to interfere.

Perhaps it's time to start developing the business case numbers, and possibly even time to start looking at how such an operation could be set-up. BHP, together with a major Aerospace company such as a Lockheed Martin or Boeing, would have the resources and expertise to build an end-to-end business case, to determine at what cost the venture becomes viable.

As time goes by, we continue to find more resources on the moon and the price of launch continues to drop. At the same time, the price of resources on earth trends up, and the cost of obtaining them generally increases, as we have mined the easiest-to-access resources first.

At some point, the business case will become viable. When it does, I hope it is companies like BHP Billiton who will be amongst the pioneers of moon mining.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

11th Australian Space Science Conference Outcomes

The 11th Australian Space Science Conference wrapped up on the 29th of September, after 4 successful days of Australia's best and brightest space scientists and engineers gathering at the Australian National University.

The conference saw the release of the Principles for a National Space Industry Policy, the guiding principles behind the future Australian Space Policy that the Space Policy Unit is currently working upon. 

As an outcome from the conference, the delegates issued a series of resolutions and recommendations that are worth sharing with you:

The conference resolution concludes:

The delegates Resolve

• To congratulate the Government, including Parliament, and the Minister for  recognising the importance of space to our daily lives, for the investments made and proposed in creating the Space Policy Unit, for funding the Australian Space  Research Program, and for forging stronger bilateral and multi-lateral  international links in the space domain;
• To acknowledge the substantial investment by the Government in gathering evidence about the uses of space and the importance of space-based utilities to  the daily lives of all Australians, to national  security, and to the strength of the  economy more broadly;
• To congratulate the Government for explicitly recognising the importance of space science research and education in the soon to be released 2011 Research  Infrastructure Roadmap and for comprehending the interconnections that exist  between the far universe (astronomy), the solar system and Sun/Earth interactions (space science) and the implications for the Earth system (Earth  sciences);
 • To congratulate and support the Government for its commitment to Australia winning the support of the international astronomical community to host the SKA in Australia, and its support for Australia to become a 10% investor in the  Giant Magellan Telescope; and
• To encourage the Government to develop bipartisan support for the finalisation and release of a national space policy noting that this document will assist a whole-of-government approach to space, will raise the profile of space in Australia and of Australia’s space activities internationally, and will help to remove market uncertainty which at present is holding back investors;

The delegates Recommend

• Funding certainty for the Space Policy Unit, to allow for both growth in size and dedicated leadership at a level appropriate to inter- and intra-departmental negotiation and decision making; 
• Urgent attention be given to ensuring that Australia has access to data from the next generation of Earth observation and geodetic satellites – to include the establishment of relevant agreements and the necessary remediation of Australia’s ground reception, processing and dissemination infrastructure; 
• Continuation of the Australian Space Research Program; and 
• Urgent attention be given to providing space education to public officials to ensure they understand why they are being encouraged to spend time and money on developing national capacity and capability in space – that Australia has considerable dependency and associated vulnerability on space, which can be addressed by supporting and strengthening our space science and engineering which in turn will strengthen our international space credentials and credibility

Some great ideas to create and sustain a vital space capability within Australia.

Three points I would like to pick up on here:

1. The mention of "bipartisan support" for a national space policy. In all of the recent Australian Space events, we haven't heard as much as a peep out of the opposition (or at least I haven't seen much). I understand that they broadly supported the Senate Inquiry into the Space Sector in Australia and its recommendations, but beyond that have not spoken much further. In the difficult Australian political context, it is important that both sides of politics understand the importance of Space to Australia, and the critical role it plays to our country, economy and society.

2. The need for sustainability for both political support and funding, to provide certainty to the space market, investors, and the industry as a whole. As an industry, we cannot survive and prosper under an ever changing context, and the broader space market in Australia has a need for certainty of its future. All other space nations have a long term vision for their space sector, with short term goals and aspirations. Australia should look to develop a long term vision within its space policy, one that directly serves the interests of Australians.

3. There continues to be an 'education' problem within both the parliament, as well as the broader Australian  government. Most people just don't understand what Australia uses space for, and people find it difficult to support a vision that they don't understand. Space should not, and cannot be thought of as 'sending man to the moon', yet ask an average Australian what they thing of an Australian space program, and that's probably their response. Space in Australia needs to be seen as an extension of the critical national infrastructure that powers much of what we do, just like the provision of roads, water, electricity and the like. Turn it off, and you very quickly find out how important it is. Collectively, we need to keep solving this 'education' problem in Australia.

Congratulations to the National Space Society of Australia for organising the conference, and all of those who attended who made it a success.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Australian Scientist Brian Schmidt awarded Nobel Prize for Physics

ANU Professor Brian Schmidt has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics, sharing his award with Professor Saul Perlmutter from the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Adam Riess from the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

U.S. Born Australian Professor Schmidt was honoured "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae" according to the Prize announcement.

It continues...

"For almost a century, the Universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago. However, the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the Universe will end in ice. 

 The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma - perhaps the greatest in physics today. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again."

Professor Schmidt becomes only the 12th Australian to ever win a Nobel Prize, and joins a collection of Australia's greatest academic minds including Howard Florey and William and Lawrence Bragg.

The award demonstrates the value of Australia's commitment to world class Astronomy facilities such as Mt Stromlo where Professor Schmidt, and serves as a huge inspiration to all Australian scientists and students alike.

Australia is incredibly proud to see Professor Schmidt take out this award, and it comes as one of Australia's best achievements in the field of physics, having last one the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.

Congratulations Professor Schmidt.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Minister Carr's Address to the ASSC

Minister for Space Senator Kim Carr today opened the 11th Australian Space Science Conference in Australia. In doing so, Minister Carr gave a major address on the Australian Space Industry, and in my opinion, one of the best government speeches on the topic of Space that we have seen in a long time.

You can read the full address here.

The Speech is important for a number of reasons including that Space is actively being discussed at Prime Ministerial level. Here are my top five highlights from the speech:

1. The speech puts a baseline for the first time about the size and scope of the Australian Space Industry, demonstrating that the industry is strong, and important to Australia. Perhaps this also highlights how ineffective we have been so far as an industry about promoting ourselves with a common voice, and something that we need to radically improve over the coming months to support the governments vision.

"Combined, the Australian space industry involves around 630 organisations employing 8,400 people and generating revenues of up to $1.6 billion."

2. The speech highlights just how important the Space Sector is to the Australian government - and identifies that the Australian government is already a significant investor in Space activities, with over 30 government programs dependent on space infrastructure.

"Australian government is already a major purchaser of Space Today in Australia, there are some 30 separate federal government programs that depend on space industry infrastructure. The Australian Government provides significant investment in space activities to the tune of more than $1 billion per annum."

3. The speech identifies the enormous contribution of Earth Observation to the Australian GDP. We'd love to hear similar data for Satellite communications and Position Navigation and Timing too.

"It  (Earth Observation) contributes at least $3.3 billion to our GDP in 2008-09, and on conservative assumptions that contribution will grow to $4 billion by 2015."

4. Minister Carr has announced the set of principles that will guide the space policy and consultation in the coming months. I am guessing that these principles will be discussed a great deal within the industry in the coming period, and we will be hearing a lot more about them, so read them carefully.

"The principles, which will be the backbone and direction for the policy, are:

a) Focus on space applications of national significance;
b) Assure access to space capability;
c) Strengthen and increase international cooperation;
d) Contribute to a stable space environment;
e) Improve domestic coordination;
f) Support innovation, science and skills development;
g) Contribute to national security and economic well-being."

5. Perhaps there are three lines that I think resonate with me the most, and I think should have a lasting effect on all of those in the industry if we want to be serious about developing an Australian Space Industry that is sustainable:

"For us, this is not about putting man on Mars.
This is about the very practical ways in which the space industry underpins our economy and our way of life.  
It is about the very real jobs and businesses in this country which help us harness those benefits."

Well done Minister for Space!

11th Australian Space Science Conference underway in Canberra

The 11th Australian Space Science Conference is underway in Canberra this week, from the 26th to the 29th of September. This years conference at ANU features an ever expanding list of the finest Space Science researchers in Australia, and is reflecting the continuing uptick in the Australian Space Industry that has occurred in the last few years.

The conference was opened by the Minister for Space Kim Carr - in a very important speech that I intend to devote another blog post to discussing.

Some key speeches at the conference not to miss:

Senator Kim Carr - who officially opened the conference today
The National Context Speeches which feature many of the key players in the Australian Space Industry - Michel Clement, Clare McLaughlin, Brett Biddington, Phil Diamond, Russel Boyce and Iver Cairns.
Trevor Ireland - Samples from the Hayabusa Mission to Itokawa-2514
Jason Held - Vostok “4-Pines” Stout, the First Space Beer: The Flight Test and Research Plan (just because I think he's done a great job this year, and they've been incredibly innovative)
The Government Speeches by David Neudegg, Kimberley Clayfield, Andrew Klekociuk, Tony Lindsay, and Adam Lewis,
Tanya Vladimirova - Microelectronics Design and Embedded Systems for Small Satellites
All of the ASRP speeches
Fred Menk - The Next Generation Over the Horizon Radar

This years ASSC will run in conjunction with the Italy-Australia Space Symposium on the afternoon of the 28th of September.

The conference homepage can be found here, with the final program found here.

For those who are there, let me know how its going - or @spaceboomerang on twitter.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

ASRP Fact Sheets on the website

The Australian Space Policy Unit has set up a wonderful set of fact sheets about each of the Australian Space Research Program projects, which can be found here.

Great work guys - they're very informative, and interesting.

My only complaint - they're a little buried on the website, and didn't even make the "News and Features" section on the front page. Perhaps they could be promoted a little more?

Happy reading everyone.

Commentary on the Space Industry Innovation Council advice to the Australian Govenment

Recently, the Australian Space Industry Innovation Council (SIIC) released their first statement of 'Advice to the Australian government' which can be found here, despite it being a little hidden on the website, which understates its importance.

The Advice is far more substantial than the previous SIIC Strategic Roadmap, and makes a total of 8 recommendations to the Australian Government.

The advice is broken into 3 sections:

  • The Space Policy Unit and the Australian Space Research Program (ASRP) 
  • Australia’s Dependency on Space Infrastructure and Service 
  • Building Space Industry Capacity and Capability

I thought I might go through the recommendations and put a few ideas down.

1.1 That the Space Policy Unit be established as a permanent element of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Recommendation 

Firstly, I must say that I wasn't aware that the SPU was not permanent, which is somewhat disappointing to know, and a clear driver behind this recommendation. The SPU is the absolute minimum that Australia should ever tolerate in the space sector - a dedicated, educated, informed unit within the Australian government that can provide advice to the Australian government on all things space. This should be supported by all sides of parliament to keep, as a minimum, some understanding within government of Space issues.

2.1 That the Australian Space Research Program be converted into an ongoing funded space capability development program.  

I fully agree on this point, however I believe the future should be a mix of Australian government projects that are decided and driven by the government and implemented to address national space priorities, as well as the current industry proposed ideas within the ASRP. It was a shame in the last budget that we did not see an extension of the ASRP, however I hope next year's budget will commit funding.

Recommendation 2.1 That the issue of Australia’s dependence on space‐based infrastructure and services be referred to the Attorney‐General, as the Minister responsible for critical infrastructure protection coordination, for assessment of measures necessary to assure Government that the critical dependencies are both understood and risk managed.  

We have not yet seen a major disruption to Australian Space infrastructure, which has led to our apathy about what could occur should this infrastructure be damaged or destroyed. The Attorney-General should at the very least  undertake a full risk analysis to manage these risks, and then report back to the government on how our Space infrastructure should be protected.

Recommendation 2.2 That Australia move to strengthen its relationships with the international space community in order to both build own resilience towards the security of data supply, and demonstrate a responsible and reliable approach to the space‐based services in which Australia participates on behalf of others

This recommendation ties in well with Brett Biddington's principle of having some "skin in the game" in the global space industry. We continue to be lucky that our partners provide us with an incredible amount of free data, however we should support our partners by getting back into the game, through restarting Australia's role in the global space industry, through agreements, projects, and exchanges.

Recommendation 3.1 That Government take deliberate steps to identify the relevant cadre of staff members across public agencies which use or have policy impact on space capability, including at senior levels, and ensure that their skill sets and understanding of space matters are maintained and enhanced. 

My guess is that the SPU is probably already in the middle of implementing this implementation through their work on the National Space Policy. Perhaps if anything, the depth and scope of the impact of space across the government may be underestimated, and the knowledge and skills may be overestimated.

Recommendation 4.1 That the opportunity for robust Australian industry participation in the ground segment of the NBN satellite procurement be explored.  

From what I understand, the NBN is in the final moments of their decision on their satellite purchase of two Ka band satellites, which may also include the ground segment (or it may be a separate contract). It would be great to see Australian involvement in the ground (and satellite segment for that matter), however I feel that it may be almost too late to change things from their already established position. That is not to say that their won't be Australian involvement, quite the contrary. As the ground segment will be built in Australia, it would be fair to say that their will be a reasonable degree of Australian involvement.

Recommendation 4.2 That the potential to include an Australian PNT augmentation payload or weather sensor be explored now in the context of major investments already contemplated by Government or industry, including procurement of the satellite communications component of the NBN as well as plans to make better use of space‐based precision timing and navigation capabilities.

A great idea - and perhaps one of the projects that could be addressed under the "government priorities" section of any future ASRP, or as a separate Australian Space program in parallel with the ASRP.

Recommendation 4.3   That a series of studies be undertaken to begin to understand the organisational, technical and other issues associated with the acquisition and successful introduction into service of an Australian owed and operated ‘dual use’ Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite in the 2010 timeframe.

This is the first time that I've seen that the SAR satellite might be "dual use". A good idea, and perhaps something we'll see more of in the coming months. It would certainly leverage the investment in the satellite across multiple sections of the Australian Government. I'm guessing the 2010 time frame is a typo, as I think it is suggested to be introduced around the 2014-15 time frame.

Overall, a very good, and well thought out set of advice to the Australian government. I was initially a little skeptical when the SIIC was setup, however their existence has been fully justified by the good advice that they are providing. The government now has a strong base of evidence, support and advice to complete the Australian Space Policy, which we're all eagerly awaiting. I hope the Government takes the SIIC advice into account.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Australia and NZ submit bid for the SKA

On the 14th of September, Australia and New Zealand submitted their formal proposal to host the Square Kilometer Array. The Square Kilometer Array will be the worlds most sensitive Radio-Astronomy instrument, and is expected to cost around AUD$2 Billion to build, making it one of the most prominent scientific instruments worldwide.

The Australia / New Zealand Bid is in direct competition to host the SKA with Southern Africa, with the Australian / New Zealand site believed to be superior to Southern Africa in terms of radio quietness, which is critical to maximise the scientific value of the instrument, as well as being able to leverage off the Australian government's new Australia-wide fibre-optic network, the National Broadband network. Australia and New Zealand also offer a highly stable political environment to support the SKA facility, ensuring stability across its predicted 50 year timeframe.

The facility will involve thousands of Radio telescope dishes, centered in the Murchison region of Western Australia but extending across the whole of Australia as well as New Zealand, offering a telescope baseline of 5,500 kilometers.

The Australian / New Zealand bid brought together over 47 government agencies from across Australia and New Zealand, in a strong show of political support from both sides of the Tasman. If selected, the SKA will put Australia and New Zealand at the forefront of radio-astronomy for generations to come, bringing the best minds globally to work with the facility.

The site selection is expected to be announced in early 2012, with  the SKA fully operational by 2020.

Go you Aussies and New Zealanders!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Australians in Space - VSSEC Space Week Video Conference Program

In continuing with their wonderful series of events, The Victorian Space Science Education Centre is putting on a series of video conferences to demonstrate a range of different Australians working in Space from across the world.

The sessions are running from the 17th to the 21st of October, and will feature different speakers each day. For school or university students it will be a great chance to see and speak to different Australian space professionals, and find out just how the ended up where they are.

Here is the background from the VSSEC website:

The space industry is a challenging and exciting industry to work in. It employs people from all backgrounds, and brings them together to provide essential services like Earth Observation, satellite communication and GPS, as well as explore our solar system and beyond. Talk to Australians working at NASA, the European Space Agency and in Australia. Meet an engineer designing the next Optus satellite and a scientist exploring Mars. Every one of them is inspirational and in a job you could have! 

Duration:45min per session
Target audience:Year 10-12
Cost: FREE
Limit 3 classes per session
Email to book a session
Sessions will be recorded and loaded on VSSECs YouTube site 

For more information and to download the flyer - head here

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

EOS wins defence space technology contract

Electro Optic Systems (EOS) has today been awarded an Australian Defence Capability and Technology Demonstrator Contract, winning one of only five contracts out of 119 submissions. The contract, valued at around $3 Million, will demonstrate EOS's optical Space Tracking technology, including performance, reliability, cost effectiveness and integration with radar based sensors.

Canberra based EOS has also seen success in the recent Australian Space Research Program, where they have been involved in 3 different projects. These projects have included the "Grace Follow on Mission", led by the Australian National University, the "Platform Technologies for Space, Atmosphere and Climate" led by RMIT, and most importantly the "Automated Laser Tracking of Space Debris" which is led by EOS themselves, and has received $4 million in ASRP grant funding.

Building on 20 years of technolgy development at EOS, and supported by the ASRP funding, the CTD program will test the EOS optical debris tracking technology in real-time with existing space surveillance radars. The optical technology is able to detect space objects, both satellites and debris to a very high precision - potentially down to one metre, allowing much more precise tracking and collision avoidance.

Perhaps most importantly, the optical tracking technology would be ideal to be used in parallel with the proposed U.S. Space Fence Radar that is likely to be built at the Harold E Holt Naval communications station in Exmouth, Western Australia. There may even be the potential to export this technology to the other U.S. Space Fence facilities.

This is a wonderful example of Australian technology, being supported through small amounts of Australian government funding at critical times - both civilian and defence, to allow cutting edge technology to be developed and brought to the market.

Well done to the team at EOS - I hope the CTD program goes well, and allows you to continue to demonstrate the world leading technology that you have developed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Australian Space Needs: Telecommunications

Australia is one of the most suited countries in the world for Satellite based telecommunications due to our large size, and geographically spread population. It is also no surprise that Telecommunications has been one of Australia’s most successful segments of the space industry for many years. Globally speaking it is also one of the most successful commercial industries within space with an estimate $80 Billion revenue size.

Telecommunications encompasses a wide range of different applications that Australians use every day, without paying much attention to it. Space based telecommunications used in Australia include:
  • Television broadcasting
  • Consumer Broadband Internet Services
  • Satellite Telephone Services
  • Telecommunications backhaul services
  • Remote Site Communications such as mining sites or defence requirements
The Australian Space Government website identifies that there are at least 14 satellite operators that provide satellite communications to, from and within Australia, and the ACMA highlights that growth in the global industry was 38% from 2000 to 2005, with this level of growth expected to continue. So far this year, many telecommunications companies have released close to double-digit business growth including Optus who recently reported a 9% jump in Satellite revenue.

A little bit of history.... 

Back in the early 80’s, a government telecommunications provider called Aussat was created, and on the 27th of August 1985 launched its first satellite – Aussat A1 via the Space Shuttle Discovey. Aussat A1 provided communications services for both civilian and military needs, as well as television broadcast to remote regions in Australia. It was located at 160° east in Geostationary orbit, and remained operational until 1993.

Aussat A1 being launched from the Space Shuttle Discovery (Photo:

Not long after, Aussat A2 and A3 were launched in November 1985 and September 1987 respectively, providing Aussat with a fleet of operational telecommunications satellites in orbit, and a unique capability to Australia. The A-series satellites were Ku Band satellites, and were built by Hughes (now Boeing).

In 1992, Optus purchased Aussat including the A-series of satellites, and moved ahead in acquiring the B-series of satellites to meet growing demand. On the 13th of August 1992, the Optus B-1 satellite was launched, with the launch failure of the Optus B-2 satellite occurring the 21st of December 1992. Optus B-3 was then developed and launched on the 27th of August 1994 to replaced the failed B-2 satellite.
The Optus B3 Satellite (Photo Credit: Optus)

For the next generation of satellites, Optus teamed up with the Australia department of Defence, with Optus C-1 using the Ku band for civilian telecommunications, and UHF, X and Ka bands for defence purposes. Optus C-1 carries significant television broadcasts, including Foxtel, ABC Australia, Aurora (remote free to air television), and other channel’s (7,9,10) digital broadcasts. 
The D-series of satellites include D-1 (launch: 13th Oct 2006), D-2 (launch: 5th Oct 2007), and D-3 (launch: 21st August 2009). These satellites replaced the B-1 and B-3 Satellites at end of life, and expanded capacity of the C-1 satellite through co-location. The D-series of satellites provides television broadcast services, two way voice and data services to Australia and New Zealand, as well as services to Australian and NZ government departments.

The Optus D1 Satellite (Photo Credit: Optus)

In total, Aussat / Optus has had a fleet of 9 working satellites – certainly the biggest of any Australian organisation.  

What’s next for Satellites?

Looking to the future, there are several major developments underway that will underpin the future of space based telecommunications in Australia for the years to come.

Firstly, Optus has recently announced that it has just ordered a next generation Ku satellite (currently named Optus 10), and is planned for launch in 2013. This will ensure that their capabilities will last long into the 2020’s.  

NBNCo is right in the middle of making a decision about ordering two Ka band satellites to cover the complete Australian continent, allowing high speed broadband and telecommunications to all those Australians not covered by fibre optic or wireless technologies. 

Thirdly, a company called NewSat  is planning on launching its own fleet of telecommunications satellites called “Jabiru” over the coming years, and are in the advanced planning stages of the satellite procurement.

In this respect, the space based telecommunications future in Australia looks very bright!

Ground Segments

On the ground segment side of things, Space based telecommunications has had a long and successful history in Australia. Just before Aussat A1 was launched, Aussat (now Optus) also opened its Sydney Earth Station at Belrose, which still remains one of the most important space facilities in Australia. I’d also highly recommend the recent ARN article here about the Belrose earth station – it’s a great read.

The Optus Belrose facility (Photo credit: ITnews

In addition to the Optus facility at Belrose, Australia also plays host to a number of major ground segments for international space agencies including NASA, ESA, JAXA. Major ground stations around Australia include the NASA Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla, the Perth International Telecommunications Centre, ESA’s facility at New Norcia and the NewSat centres at Bayswater and Mawson Lakes.

Main defence ground segments include the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station (ADSCS) at Geraldton, the Shoal Bay receiving station, and the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap. 

For those of you who are interested in the ground segment side of things, the ACMA currently has a discussion paper out about Earth Station siting – particularly in relation to spectrum issues. You can read more about this or make a submission here with the pdf of the paper here 

The Space Telecommunications industry in Australia has had a long and successful history in Australia and and has a very bright future, both in Space and On-ground. With Optus, NBNCo and NewSat all looking to build new satellites over the coming few years - expect big things to come.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Space Industry Forum in Adelaide

The Space Industry Association of Australia will be holding a Space Industry forum in Adelaide on Tuesday 16 August 2011 from 5.30-7.00pm.

Space Research in Australia - the Successes and the Challenges

The Forum will be chaired by Brett Biddington, Chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia

The Panelists will include:
Bob Buxton (Flinders University) - Place and Space: Perspective in Earth Observations
Andrew Clark (Vipac) - Greenhouse Gas Monitor Project
Michael Davis (Adelta Legal) - Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program
Jeff Kasparian (ITR, UniSA) - Space-based National Wireless Sensor Network

It will provide a good understanding of several Australian Space Research Program projects, as well the opportunity ask questions about the future direction of Space Research in Australia to a series of industry experts.

I am told that places are running out very quick, so rush over to before 12 August 2011, or email the SIAA on 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Australia's Space Needs: Bushfire Detection and Mapping

Continuing on the Australian Space Needs series of Blogs, I’ve decided to devote this blog post to fire detection and mapping from Space.

Photo: Reuters via the Sydney Morning Herald

Australia, through its hot, dry landscape is significantly pre-disposed to bushfires. In fact, South Eastern Australia is said to have some of the most bushfire prone areas in the world. Fire has been used for many thousands of years by indigenous Australians for a variety of purposes, and several of Australia’s native flora have specifically adapted to use the natural cycle of bushfires to reproduce.

During summer, it is quite normal in Australia to have multiple bushfires at any given moment across the country. However, when these bushfires threaten property and life, it becomes very important that we can detect them as quickly as possible, and have the best possible knowledge about their direction and location.

In recent years, despite improving methods of fire detection, fire mapping and fire fighting, several major Australian bushfires have killed many people and caused enormous economic damage. The black Saturday bushfires in 2009 in Victoria killed 173 people, and destroyed over 2000 houses. In 2005, 9 people were killed in a bushfire on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, and in 2003, major bushfires encroached on Australia’s capital Canberra killing 4 people and destroying around 500 homes. Going right back to 1983, many Australian’s would remember the Ash Wednesday fires that killed 75 people across South Australia and Victoria.

Bushfires are a significant Australian issue and one that benefits from the application of Space Technologies.

Prior to 2003, fire services from Around Australia relied on “eye-witness” reports from people in vehicles, fire towers, spotter planes and helicopters to provide fire detection and mapping. With 7.6 Million square kilometres of surface to cover, this system was not perfect to say the least. Particularly when assets such as spotter planes and helicopters are often grounded in heavy smoke or high winds, exactly when the fire detection and mapping need is at its highest.

Back in 2001-02 following bushfires in NSW and ACT, the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) together with CSIRO and Geoscience Australia got together to develop and implement a system to detect and monitor bushfires using satellite data. The new system was called Sentinel Hotspots.

The Sentinel Hotspots system uses data from the NASA Earth Observation Satellites Terra and Aqua with their Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument to extract the current thermal imagery across Australia allowing detection and mapping of Bushfires. It then overlays this bushfire location data on a detailed map of Australia, and provides all of this information over an easy to use internet interface.

A Screenshot from the Sentinel fire mapping website 

The MODIS instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites have a swath width of 2330km, and pass over Australia at least once per day, reporting fires within one hour of detection. The system has an accuracy of around 1.5km, and can update up to four times per day, depending on satellite passes.

The data from these satellites is downlinked to Geoscience Australia at Alice Springs, and special algorithms are used to produce the thermal images. Areas with high temperature are then identified, and fed into a spatial database which can be accessed via an internet interface, highlighting the location of each fire and other information about the fires progress.

The Sentinel Hotspots system was launched in January 15 2003, juts three days before major bushfires hit Canberra. Whilst the Sentinel Hotspots system was only intended to be a ‘pilot’ website, firefighters, media and the general public all swamped the website to check the latest information about the fires.

On the 19th of January 2003, just 4 days after the website launched, it recorded over 1.6 million hits – with CSIRO working 24 hours a day to make sure the system kept running in an operational mode. In total, the Sentinel website received 14.1 million hits in January 2003 and 3.4 million in February 2003, with a surprising 35% of traffic on the peak day coming from overseas.

The ‘pilot’ system was made into a permanent operational system in 2005, and is now hosted by Geoscience Australia here. It is also one of many different global fire detection and mapping systems such as the NASA MODIS global firemap series.

A Week of Fire locations around the World from the MODIS firemap website

The Sentinel Hotspots systems is a wonderful example of using satellite data to save people's lives, save people’s houses, and improve our ability to control major bushfires, avoiding major economic damage. Providing accurate detection and mapping of fires in near-real time, provides fire authorities with a strong management tool allowing them to best deploy resources and manage disaster response more efficiently and effectively.

On the space side, Australia is still currently reliant on NASA’s satellites to provide us with this critical information. As far as I am aware, Australia has not contributed to the design, development, launch or operation of these satellites – with the exception of providing a data download facility which allows us to also use the data free of charge.

In future, fire detection and mapping from space will become more effective in supporting operational fire management and fire fighting in real time, with increased resolution as well as a reduced re-visit time – allowing a reduction in the time between when a fire starts, and when it is reported to fire authorities. This very early reporting can allow fire-fighters to get a fire under control, before turning into a major threat to communities.

It is also an application where it would make sense for Australia to take on a leading role in the international community – whilst delivering real and immediate benefits to Australians at home. Perhaps fire detection and mapping something the upcoming Australian Space Policy will consider.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Climate R3 about to kick-off in Sydney

Image Credit: Australian Space Policy Unit

From July 18-20 at the Menzies hotel in Sydney, Australia will host the Climate Regional Readiness Review or “Climate R3” as it is known. The Climate R3 initiative was born out of an Australian proposal at the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) -17 that was held in Melbourne in November 2010 that was aimed at undertaking a Regional Readiness Review for Key Climate Missions.

Overall, the aim of the review is to determine the ability of APRSAF countries and their relevant institutions to benefit from space derived data and information that will be derived from climate related earth observation satellites that will be launched in the next few years.

The first topics chosen for this review include:
  • Precipitation Information
  • Soil Moisture
  • Land Use / Mapping

All three of these are definitely high priority areas for Australia in light of the recent droughts and floods, and have been determined to be high priority areas to the APRSAF governments. Future Climate R3 may broaden their focus to other APRSAF priority areas.

The review plans to look at the end-to-end system of data and information flow, from space-based acquisition, right through to the dissemination and exploitation of this data to support each nations needs. It will include a review of the satellite coverage against each area; local reception facilities; data storage and processing together with in-country know how; product development needs and dissemination capabilities.

Climate R3 will also undertake a review of the institutional arrangements in APRSAF countries, including identification of end-user groups.

I was also lucky enough to speak with Mr Stephen Ward and Mr George Dyke, who are two of the key figures driving the success of the Climate R3. I posed them the following questions:

SpaceBoomerang: What benefits of Climate R3 do you see for Australia?

Australia wishes to see well-informed climate policy in the Asia-Pacific region for our mutual benefit, and securing access to key space data streams and ensuring capacity for their exploitation is an important part of supporting that policy. By playing a coordinating role in brokering the international partnerships and data flows at the heart of Climate R3, Australia will be building on its existing international space linkages, creating new linkages, and ultimately helping to ensure future access to data. We have already seen those linkages in action, with support to the development of the workshop being provided by key partners like JAXA (Japan), USGS and NASA (USA), and ESA (Europe).

SpaceBoomerang: How do you think initiatives like Climate R3 support developing nations in the region?

The Asia-Pacific, unlike USA and Europe, has no comprehensive region-wide process for the systematic assessment of our climate information requirements, in particular for the planning and implementation of the supporting satellite observation systems to satisfy these requirements. Being home to 60% of the world’s population, the region deserves, and has a pressing need for such a capacity and process especially as it is particularly vulnerable to many of the expected impacts of climate change processes. Initiatives like Climate R3 create a forum where countries in the Asia-Pacific with expertise and space capabilities can share expertise, information and support capacity building in nations who do not. While still a pilot initiative, participants in the Climate R3 workshop will cover a wide range of Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, USA, and Australia, as well as Europe.

SpaceBoomerang: This is one of the first international Australian driven space initiatives in many years. Do you think this is the start of a broader plan for Australia to become actively involved in international space activities again?

The pilot Climate R3 workshop is being coordinated by the Space Policy Unit (SPU) within the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR). The SPU has been given a mandate to bring forward a National space policy for consideration by Government. Part of this mandate is to consider how Australia uses space to tackle climate change, weather forecasting, natural resource management, forestry and agriculture, disaster management, and national security. The focus of the Climate R3  workshop is on ensuring access to key climate-related data streams, and so it fits well within this mandate.

Broader Australian engagement in international space activities would also take place within this mandate, and therefore would in all likelihood be linked to the areas of national interest identified. Climate R3  is focused on Earth observation, but other areas of interest in the future may include other space services like position, navigation and timing, and satellite communications and broadband; support to space science and research and applications development; development of Australia’s domestic space industries; and, safeguarding Australia’s national security.

SpaceBoomerang: Climate R3 is one of a growing number of initiatives coming from the APRSAF. Where do you see the future of the APRSAF cooperation, and what role do you see Australia playing in its future?

APRSAF includes broad membership from across Asia, and past activities have been built substantively on Japan’s long heritage in space. As a number of Asian countries increase the sophistication of their space activities, developing both space-based hardware and applications for the benefit of their societies, more opportunities to share those benefits will naturally emerge through forums like APRSAF. The diversity of Asian space programs means that those opportunities will likely emerge across the full range of space activities, with nations engaging in cooperation when those opportunities align with their national interests.

Australia has been engaged in APRSAF for some time now, having hosted the 11th (2004) and 17th (2010) APRSAF meetings. As Australia continues to develop its Space Policy, identifying areas of national interest, you would expect to see further opportunities for collaboration with APRSAF countries emerge. Australia’s good relations with traditional space powers like Japan, the USA, and Europe also position it well to play a coordination role within the Asia-Pacific.

Climate R3  is being led by Australia through the Space Policy Unit, who is collaborating with Geoscience Australia, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and other Australian Government departments.

ESA, NASA, USGS and JAXA are also providing support for the initiative, with speakers currently planned from Australia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Europe and the United States of America.

For more information, head to the information page on over here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Australian Childrens Space Book Released

Australian Children's author Tristan Bancks has released his latest latest book titled "Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space".

 (Image Credit: Tristan Bancks)

The book is about Australian boy Dash Campbell whose only dream is to go to space. He is lucky enough to get that opportunity when the billionaire owner of a civilian space travel company puts out a call to find the first five kids in space.

Whilst only being released this week, the book is getting great reviews so far. Well done Tristan for inspiring the next generation of Australian's who will take us to the stars!

For more information on the book, head here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Minister Carr Meets NASA Administrator Bolden

In an event that has received surprisingly little coverage in the main stream press, Australian Space Minister Senator Carr met with NASA Administrator Bolden on the 28th June 2011.

In the media release which you can take a look at here, it highlights that they discussed:

"Australia's national space policy development, the Australian Space Research Program and NASA's involvement, future NASA missions and potential future Australian-United States collaboration."
  It goes on to say:

"The Australian Government is keen to encourage further opportunities for international collaboration with NASA and the United States regarding civil space science activities. Australia has significant niche capabilities to contribute in the international arena," Senator Carr said. 

Administrator Bolden and Senator Carr also discussed NASA's interest in future space science collaborations, including in the area of Earth observation."

This leaves me with a lot more questions than answers. What sort of collaborations are they discussing? Will this be part of the upcoming National Space Policy? If there wasn't some sort of opportunity on the horizon, what else would they be discussing?

I'm truly reading between the lines here, but would it be possible that they were discussing a potential Australian involvement on a NASA Earth Observation program?

Let me know if anyone has any ideas on this one. I am guessing we'll be hearing more on this front.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Australian Space Research Program Analysis

With Round 4 of the Australian Space Research Program announced, I thought I would take a look at the global picture of what the four rounds and $40 Million of Government funding looks like.

For a start, in total, there were 14 ASRP grants awarded across the four selection rounds. Of these, there were 4 grants awarded under Stream A (Education) and 10 awarded under Stream B (Space Science and Innovation).

Looking at the funding total, excluding GST, I add up a total of $40,322,000 funding awarded (very slightly above the $40 Million allocated). Of that total, $3,071,158 went to the 4 Stream A Grants, and $37,250,842 went to the 10 Stream B Grants as below.

That also means that the average award for Stream A grants was $767,790, whereas the average award for Stream B grants was a much higher $3,725,084.

Taking a look at which states did well out of the ASRP, ACT and SA did the best with 4 grants allocated, with NSW on 3, Victoria on 2, and Queensland on 1 (taking into account only the lead recipient) as below.

There were a total of 61 different organisations who are part of ASRP Grant Consortiums, with the most involved organisations being the Australian National University who is involved in 6 different ASRP grants, followed by the University of NSW with 5. DSTO and EOS Space Systems are involved in 3 each, and Curtin University of Technology, the Bureau of Meteorology, University of South Australia, CSIRO and Vipac Engineers and Scientists involved in 2 grants each.

19 International organisations are involved in the ASRP grants, demonstrating that the ASRP is highly successful in developing international cooperation and links. The USA led the way with involvement in 4 programs, with France coming in second with involvement in 3 programs. 

So what can we learn from all of this? Well, firstly, the ASRP grant money was clearly spread across a large range of organisations in Australia, and has enabled strong international links with many of the worlds leading Space nations.

In looking at the states and international involvement, we may also start to see some interesting things for the future of Space in Australia. Clearly, the Space Industry is focussed primarily around 4 states - ACT, SA, NSW and Victoria. This would not come as a surprise to many. We can also see that internationally, Australia is forming links primarily with the USA and Europe. These are also the most likely international partners for future space cooperation.

In my view, the ASRP has already been a great success, and forms an interesting model for continued space activities in Australia. Whilst a fully sector proposed model is unlikely to form the basis for an Australian national Space Policy, propositions from Industry and Academia should continue to be part of that future. I'm sure the lessons from the success of the ASRP are being fully taken into account by the Space Policy Unit, and I look forward to the national Space Policy release shortly.