A seat at the table

Megan Clark: Leading Australians into space

November 14 2018

Megan Clark explains why now is the best time to launch an Australian Space Agency.

The Australian Space Agency is in good hands with Dr Megan Clark AC FTSE as its head. The former CSIRO chief executive will lead the agency’s first year after completing a government review of the space sector.

She said the space industry was helping every sector of the economy grow and would provide “one voice one door” for Australia to work with our international counterparts. The Australian Space Agency will be one of the world’s most industry-focused space agencies.

parkes-radio-telescope

CSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope. With a diameter of 64 metres, it’s one of the largest single-dish telescopes in the southern hemisphere dedicated to astronomy. The telescope is now 10,000 times more sensitive than when it began operating in 1961. Photo: CSIRO image library

Australia was only one of two developed nations without a space agency. Why do you think it has taken so long to establish?

Some people say we’re late to the party, but now is a great time to be establishing a space agency. We are witnessing a shift in the industry from billion-dollar government programs to an industry comprising a healthy mix of big, medium and small businesses providing a vast array of technology and services.

Technology has become cheaper and smaller, and the costs to get into space are lower. We also shouldn’t forget that Australia has a proud space history. The Honeysuckle and Parkes Observatories were an integral part of the moon landing broadcast in 1969.

And Australia’s Indigenous people have the oldest astronomy tradition in the world. We continue to learn more about the depth and complexity of Indigenous astronomy.

How will the Australian Space Agency be affected by small satellite start-ups or by other commercial space programs?

Space activities are a global business, and many countries responding to this demand in different ways. We found a gap in Australia for an organisation to coordinate our space activities and be the first point of contact for international cooperation.

For example, when NASA and the European Space Agency meet, we can have a seat at the table.

Part of the Agency’s funding includes $15 million which is dedicated to fostering international space partnerships. This will open the door to Australian businesses in every state and territory to participate in international space missions and projects.

Last year it was reported that Australia contributes only 1 per cent of the global space economy. How much do you expect we’ll contribute once the space agency is established?

The global space economy is worth about $345 billion. An important role of the Agency is helping businesses win a greater share of the global space market by identifying opportunities internationally.

Australia already has a vibrant space industry, which employs about 10,000 people and was worth $3.9 billion in 2015-16. The Agency will help triple the size of the space industry to $10-12 billion by 2030. This would create up to 20,000 new, high-tech jobs.

What do you wish more people knew about the Australian Space Agency? For example, how it will help our national security, or our agriculture, etc.

We want to reinforce how space impacts on everyday lives. Space underpins every part of the broader economy, including communications, agriculture, mining, transportation and others. Space provides the essential data for banking, TV and internet access.

Many Australians use space technology – GPS – to get around every day. Space technology will continue to flow through to other sectors and opens up new opportunities.

For example, the Government is investing $260 million to bring GPS accuracy from our current five metres to 10 centimetres across Australia and three centimetres in cities. This opens up some really exciting new uses for GPS.