Monday, April 8, 2013

Australian Satellite Utilisation Policy Analysis and Thoughts

Assistant Industry and Innovation Minister Kate Lundy today released Australia’s long awaited Satellite Utilisation Policy today at Mount Stromlo. In essence it is Australia’s first Space Policy, and one that has been under consultation and development for many years now. It can be found on the Australian Government Space website here, or direct download link here.

The opening line probably summarises the document best ‘Australia aims to achieve on-going, cost-effective access to the space capabilities on which the nation relies now and in the future’. This is what we need as the bare minimum from our space policy. It is also clear from the outset, that the document wants to head off any speculation that we’re about to send Aussie’s to the moon, by focussing more on Satellites and satellite utilisation – ‘Australia’s Satellite Utilisation Policy does not commit Australia to human spaceflight, domestic launch capabilities or to the exploration of other planets.’ It also commences with a strong case as to why Australia needs a space policy, helps justify the clear need for an Australian space policy.

The policy identifies the overall goal for the Australian Space Policy as:

Achieve on-going, cost-effective access to the space capabilities on which we rely.

And follows up with five major benefits that will flow to Australia by achieving this goal, including:

  • Improved Productivity: space capabilities such as satellite imagery and high accuracy positioning deliver information that brings about greater efficiencies and encourages innovation.
  • Better Environmental Management: satellite information enables effective environmental management across Australia’s extensive and often inaccessible land and ocean territory.
  • A Safe and Secure Australia: space capabilities are important contributors to national security, law enforcement and to the safety of all Australians in disasters.
  • A Smarter Workforce: space capabilities help transform existing industries and build new ones that provide quality jobs.
  • Equity of Access to Information and Services: satellite communications enable high-speed, universal access to TV broadcasting, internet and telephone services.

The policy then examines how it will achieve each of the seven principles that were previously released by the government, providing a much more comprehensive definition on what the government will do to achieve each of the principles.

The document concludes by providing some description of how the organisation or space responsibility will be achieved under the new policy.

Overall, I am delighted with the policy document, and the government should be commended for its extensive consultation process with all industry stakeholders over the past few years. The document has taken a constructive and positive approach to the Australian space sector, whilst remaining measured and conservative in what it is trying to achieve, which I believe will ultimately contribute to its sustainability, community support and overall success.  

There are several specific points of the policy that I am very pleased to see:

  • The document forms its basis around the economic benefits to Australia from space – ‘Over four billion dollars of GDP is derived from space capabilities.’ I believe this approach lends credibility and weight to the policy, and improves the justification of the policy to the Australian public.
  •  Principle 4 – Contribute to a Stable Space environment – which will allow the Department of Foreign Affairs to ramp up Australia’s diplomatic efforts in protecting the space environment for all to use, but also in negotiating international agreements surrounding space.
  • Several mentions about the education, skills and capability needs of the industry, and identification of how these can and should be improved
  • Linkages between defence and civilian space – should be kept separate at government level, but due to size of Australia, both defence and civilian space need to be supported by a single and coherent Australian space community.
  • Specific identification of our priority allies and partners, as well as a desire to increase cooperation with countries in our region – ‘Relationships with key allies and partners including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, Japan and the European Union are a priority. Consistent with the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, Australia will increase its engagement with regional neighbours with expanding capabilities that may complement Australia’s space capabilities.’ It will certainly be interesting to see what follows with each of the nations mentioned.
  • The strong statements related to the increase of Australian defence space capabilities, which mirror other public defence strategy positions. I will be keeping a close eye on the next defence white paper to see if there are any new space capabilities announced. I also like the idea of the establishment of the ‘Space Community of Interest’ within defence to bring together ‘interested parties from industry, academia and government together to explore vulnerabilities, including interdependencies between space-related infrastructure and critical infrastructure, and to develop options to mitigate risk.’ This will help leverage the skills and expertise beyond those within the defence department themselves.
  •  Clear responsibility split between civil and defence space in Australia, whilst encouraging the broader community to link together to support both sides

There are a couple of areas that are not in the policy that could be improved over time:

  • The lack of industry growth targets. Notably, the UK space policy includes an export growth target of 10% of the global market by 2030. Australia lacks any concrete targets to work towards, perhaps not so focussed on the export side of things, but more related to growing the industry in Australia as a whole. This is something that I would like to see in future worked into our space policy.
  •  Australia has headed down the ‘cross-agency coordination office’ path, which was very similar to what the UK did with its space policy originally. More recently, the UK has moved to a dedicated Space Agency model. In the short term, I believe that the ‘cross-agency coordination office’ path is  also the best policy for Australia to adopt, and it was prudent to take this approach at this time. It will help bring together and coordinate the disparate functions of the government. I do however believe that longer term a stand-alone agency represents the best solution for Australia, to bring all of the space capability within a single organisation inside government.
  • My first impression was that the Space Policy Unit (SPU) was no-longer going to exist, given the policy is now developed, and there is no funding in the future estimates for the SPU. However the policy identifies that the SPU within the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education ‘will be the chair and secretariat of the SCC’. I can only presume that somehow a small level of funding will be included in the upcoming budget for the SPU to continue in some form.
  • In the media release surrounding the Policy announcement today Senator Lundy announced “from 1 July 2013, a new Space Coordination Office in the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education would be responsible for coordinating Australia’s domestic civilian space activities and showcasing that excellence.” Which is unusual, as the Policy document itself doesn’t specifically refer to the Space Coordination Office, nor is it represented on the figure 1 diagram showing how the various committees interrelate.
  • The Policy announcement has not been in conjunction with any new funding initiatives such as an extension of the highly successful Australian Space Research Program, or even identification of funding for the government departments that will be in charge of implementing the new policy. My guess is we will have to wait and see what is in the upcoming budget on May 14th 2013.

Finally, let me congratulate all of those involved in the development of the policy. The smart and dedicated people at the Space Policy Unit in Canberra have brought together a comprehensive Space policy document since they were founded on the 1st of July 2009, which was built essentially from a clean sheet of paper.

Make no mistake; the space policy is an enormous and monumental step for the Australian Space Industry, and one that we have needed for several decades.

It is however, just the beginning of Australia’s rising space journey. 

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