Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Australian Space Policy to be called "Satellite Utilisation Policy"

It is understood that Australia's first national space policy is in the throws of debate within federal cabinet, and has been renamed the "Satellite Utilisation Policy".

In what is seen as a strong reflection of Australia's ongoing awkwardness with the space domain and policy, the renaming of the Australian Space Policy demonstrates that politically, the policy needs to focus on the use of space technology for solving Australia's national problems, rather than a general association with the space activities of other international space agencies.

Previously the Space Policy Unit has focussed on what was called a 'National Space Industry Policy' - reflecting a focus that the policy would be directed towards 'industry development' rather than space in general. The new name demonstrates a very practical focus to the policy - likely centered around the workhorse applications of Telecommunications, Earth Observation, and Position, Navigation and Timing - the  technologies that most Australian's use every day without ever considering that they are using Space technology.

There are some implicit implications of this change of focus within the policy. Where does this leave Australian space science? Science is not traditionally considered a utilisation of satellites - perhaps science is excluded from the policy consideration all together? If so, where does this leave the Australian Space Science Decadal Plan?

How will this change of focus be perceived internationally? By excluding the broader space domain, will the policy address legal and diplomatic aspects of space? Is Australia serious about becoming an active diplomatic middle power nation, when we don't have a policy that covers an area underpinning our national economic, military and environmental future? Will international space agencies feel confused about Australia's direction within the space domain, and how will the new policy focus change how they interact with Australia?

What about defence - will the policy be a whole of government policy with civilian and defence activities covered? In Australia, we struggle to sustain a single space community - let alone two communities with limited interaction.

What I do know is that most people in Australia still think of putting man on the moon when the topic of space comes up, and why would Australia want to spend bucket loads of money on that?

Short to mid term, the focus of the space policy as a 'Satellite Utilisation Policy' is likely insulate the policy from major criticism surrounding the 'waste of money' theme associated with manned exploration, and allow Australia to start changing the conversation to - why are we not better using these technologies and industries to better solve our problems. It is also more likely to receive better parliamentary support, providing a more sustainable future for the Space Sector in general.


  1. Another step backwards into the dark...or away from the 'dark' if you take my meaning. :(

  2. Yes, but innovation in areas outside of satellite technology will suffer even if they are profitable.

    I applaud the fact that we have a policy that has a good focus but feel it lacks in areas that we fear and your fears are explained above.