Sunday, September 25, 2011

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.

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