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Opinion

Australian Space Agency fails to launch

Opinion

The Adelaide-based Australian Space Agency needs a shake-up after bureaucratic inertia put obstacles in the way of Saturday’s historic satellite launch, argues Rex Patrick.

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What a great day Saturday was.

At Koonibba, 40 km north west of Ceduna, Australia’s first ever commercial rocket was launched into near space. One and a half hours later, just when you thought it couldn’t get better, a second rocket roared into the sky.

It was a fantastic achievement that involved the combined efforts of industry, government and community. The launches were led by two South Australian companies; Southern Launch and DEWC, who have embraced the potential of the space sector and have put Australia back in the space race.

Present at the launch was industry, Air Force, Regional Development Australia, Country Fire Service, SAPOL, the Indigenous community of Koonibba, more than 100 locals and me representing the Australian Senate. Notably absent was the Australian Space Agency.

They were absent, perhaps because they were too ashamed to show their faces – and they should be. Here’s why.

Regulation of airspace and space above Australia is shared between the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Australian Space Agency. CASA has responsibility below 100km, and the Australian Space Agency has responsibility above 100km.

The first launch was planned to go to 85km. CASA had been engaged and had issued a launch permit in about three months. The second launch was to venture 101km, just 1km into the Australian Space Agency’s jurisdiction, but it could not muster the ability to issue the necessary permit despite having nine months to do so.

As a Senator, I am bombarded by aviation people who tell me that CASA is the most difficult government organisation to deal with in Australia. And yet, somehow, the Australian Space Agency has made CASA look good.

The second launch did not go to 101km: it was limited by bureaucracy to 85km.

There is a huge opportunity for Australia, particularly South Australia, in a burgeoning space launch industry. International companies have headed to Australia with their launch payloads but have now started to shy away.

The Australian Space Agency has induced hesitation among potential international customers and put Australian economic activity and jobs at risk.

The Australian Space Agency needs a good shaking up. The commercial space sector is dynamic and competitive and requires an outcome focussed government support agency. Right now, that’s not the Australian Space Agency.

There is a lot at stake, not just for South Australia.

Space is now critical to everything – from national defence and emergency management to communications and environmental monitoring, including of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Australia must have a thriving and dynamic space sector as part of a technologically sophisticated and prosperous economy.

That’s why I’ll be bringing a rather large spotlight with me to Senate Estimates to look long and hard into the black hole that is the Australian Space Agency.

I fear the agency isn’t made of the right stuff.

Rex Patrick is an independent SA Senator.

You can read the Space Agency’s response here.

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