The Australian Space Agency: once around the sun

22 November 2019

The Australian Space Agency has already come light years since it launched in 2018. Agency Head and Academy Fellow Dr Megan Clark reflects on the first year in orbit.

Very few things inspire quite like space, and this has been exemplified during the first year of the Australian Space Agency.

The Australian community is really engaged, our team has opened doors internationally, updated space legislation, and is working with partners on future space missions and projects. You can feel the momentum across the country.

The Agency is on the right trajectory to transform and grow a globally respected space industry, and to reach and inspire all Australians.

We have listened to what the sector has told us through consultations across all states and territories and we have sought to reflect the view of the nation in the Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028.

Threaded through the Strategy are our values – Australia as a responsible global citizen; being safe and secure in space and on Earth; achieving shared ambition through partnership; doing what we say we will do; embracing entrepreneurship and inclusion; and being curious to learn more.

Megan Clark

Australia may be considered new to the field, but we are already showing the world our ideas. We have proven we can be on the frontline of technological innovation.

For example, Geoscience Australia is working to deliver 10cm positioning across our sea, land and airspace by correcting the global positioning system satellites signals and 3cm precise positioning in our cities with additional corrections from the mobile phone networks.

3cm accuracy will not only help our emergency services but can transform automated transport in our cities. Farmers, marine vessels and regional services managers will all benefit from bringing our national GPS up to 10cm accuracy.

Australia’s position in the southern hemisphere means we have a different view into the solar system. Australia will be a key receiving station for all planned solar system missions for the European Space Agency at their New Norcia facility in WA and for NASA at its Deep Space Communication Centre at Tidbinbilla in the ACT. Both these ground stations are run by CSIRO.

Australia has a lot to offer in the area of automation and robotics. What Australia has learnt – through operating the largest automated railway on earth, and automated drills and trucks in the Pilbara, using control rooms over 1500 km away – is really valuable as we look to return to the Moon and Mars.

NASA’s planned command and service module that will orbit the Moon, called Gateway, along with the International Space Station, will have increased levels of automation.

Spaceports in Australia could support commercial space operations, from space tourism to space station resupply missions.

It is not a surprise that NASA is already working with Australian industry partners like Woodside on such automation. NASA is also in discussions with Equatorial Launch Australia to launch small sounding rockets from its commercial space port site in the Northern Territory in 2020. This is a small step, but it’s NASA’s first use of a non-government spaceport.

Technology is rapidly developing, especially in the space field. The technology being developed in the space sector affects everyone’s lives and is changing our society.

Today we locate ourselves using GPS satellites – tomorrow we will automate transport in our cities using precise positioning.

Today we use communication satellites for wi-fi on planes and ships – tomorrow we will industrialise the low earth orbit and use lasers for high bandwidth data links in space and back to earth.

Today our farmers plant their wheat seeds between the rows of stubble of last year’s crop using satellite-aided precise positioning and monitor the health of their crops from space – tomorrow they increase yields using several images a day from space and sensor data connected to constellations of small satellites in low earth orbit.

We will 3D print rocket components and use new propulsion systems to develop smaller, cheaper rockets. Spaceports in Australia could support commercial space operations, from space tourism to space station resupply missions.

Australian companies and researchers are working on all of these examples.

Australia is already showing the world our ideas. We are demonstrating that we can be on the frontline of technological innovation.

Dr Megan Clark AC headshot
Dr Megan Clark AC FTSE

Head of the Australian Space Agency

Dr Megan Clark is an Australian geologist and executive who has worked across a range of scientific organisations.

In 2017, when the Australian Space Agency was launched, Dr Clark was appointed its inaugural Head. She had previously served as the first woman Chief Executive of CSIRO from 2009 to 2014.

An accomplished mining geologist, she has worked with companies including BHB Billiton, Western Mining Corporation and Rio Tinto. Dr Clark has made outstanding contributions to science and technology management in the minerals industry and in Venture Capital Management.

Dr Clark was a member of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, as well as the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Manufacturing. She is also a Commissioner on the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

Dr Clark was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 2006.