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Keynote address at the 68th International Astronautical Congress Industry Day Luncheon

Adelaide

26 September 2017

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I am excited to join you just a day after the Turnbull Government has announced we will establish a National Space Agency to ensure Australia has a long-term plan to grow its domestic space industry.

This is an exciting announcement.

Our National Space Agency will act as the doorway to our international space engagement and it will ensure that Australia has a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry.

It is terrific to see the enthusiasm this announcement has rallied across the spectrum of space science and politics. If ever there were an opportunity for legislators and policy makers, Federal and State, to put aside partisanship and focus on the greater good of the nation and planet, it is now.

The announcement of a National Space Agency flags a new era of capability and collaboration in space science. Thinking has moved on from the mantras and models of the past.

The Australian Government has charged our esteemed Dr Megan Clarke and members of the expert review panel with shaping the detail and direction of this nation-leading agency.

All Australians should feel proud and inspired that we can call this expertise and future our own.

Delegates, a lot has happened in your industry since Australia last hosted the IAC in Melbourne in 1998.

An International space station has been built.

There have been landings on asteroids and comets, orbits of Saturn and Mercury, and probes into interstellar space.

Even lettuce has been grown and eaten in space!!

Australia is delighted to welcome you all back - And it is fitting that you’ve come to Adelaide in South Australia, a state with a long association with the space industry.

In addition to South Australia’s Woomera Test Range and its rich aerospace history, I will add Adelaide’s illustrious son and NASA astronaut Andy Thomas, who we’re privileged to have with us here today.

You will have heard this a thousand times Andy – but I will say it again - Welcome home!

We’re also privileged to have with us Dr Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two people to land on the moon.

Dr Aldrin – it is a privilege and an honour to have you join us – and you are most welcome to Australia.

With Dr Aldrin here, it is worth reflecting on why we, the human race, embarked on that “giant leap for mankind”.

In 1962, just one month prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis – President Kennedy said:

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind...

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain…….?

Kennedy said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things: Not because they are easy, but because they are hard: Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills: Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

It is in that spirit – of setting challenges that bring out the best of our energies and skills – which you have all come together here in Adelaide.

And by your presence here Dr Aldrin – and all of our other international guests- you inspire us all.

I’d like to thank the IAF for its work in bringing everyone together.

I know space is the rallying point here, but what stands out for me is the IAF and IAC continuing to be a great force, indeed a showpiece, for collaboration.

Collaboration between industry, scientists and governments is critical for developing Australia’s indigenous space industry capability.

In fact, collaboration is critical to our global space capability.

Last week one of Australia’s leading business media publications hosted an innovation summit in Sydney.

CEOs, agency heads, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, owners of big and small enterprises, and parliamentarians - of all stripes - got together over a couple of days and tried to get a handle on what innovation can do for us, how we need to harness it for good and prosperity, the fears we need to dispel.

We’re not alone; it’s the biggest challenge for leaders and economies worldwide, and there’s some robust debate, as there should be.

Though, there was no argument about the need to collaborate – indeed, to innovate is to collaborate.

And this week we’re here at the International Astronautical Conference whose central platform and reason to be for nearly 70 years has been innovation and collaboration, the essential DNA of space discovery and research.

Space—and all that it conjures in our minds and hearts—from pre-schoolers to our astronautical superstars—holds special sway with us beyond any other human pursuit.

It has an inimitable power to engage, inspire and transform us.

For a science that is so extraordinarily complex, most of us can easily see its worth and potential, as well as its awe.

Back in 1958 - a few years before Kennedy outlined that daring vision for the moon landing - President Eisenhower was doing what we’re doing now, looking to bring clarity to the direction of his nation’s space program.

He got his Science Advisory Committee onto it, and they published the ‘Introduction to Outer Space’ for Americans’ common consumption.

There were a couple of lines in it that struck me:

  • It acknowledged “the compelling urge of man to explore and to discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to try to go where no one has gone before.”

  • And “Research in outer space affords new opportunities in science, but it does not diminish the importance of science on earth…many of the secrets of the universe will be fathomed in laboratories on earth.”

Sixty years later, these truths persist.

What’s different is that whilst then the space race was a competition between political ideologies, now it’s a different kind of race-

A race that willing and responsible individuals and nations are running together to understand what we can about the earth, the solar system and the universe, and to promote the peaceful use of space for the benefit of all.

We’ve been working in outer space for decades.

We’ve got satellites, payloads in space shuttles, the International Space Station, enabling vast telecommunications networks, earth and climate imagery, global positioning systems, and so much more.

Now, our race is to keep ahead of the fast-rising curve, across new frontiers, with new technologies, and with new participants.

Space is no longer the rarefied domain of national governments.

The innovation revolution that is storming the world — Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, AI — is storming space too.

We’re seeing privately-funded space entrepreneurs launching their own rockets, working towards easy and affordable space travel.

These formidable innovators are in the collaborative mix with governments, science agencies, universities, scientists, engineers, venture capitalists, everyday capitalists driving the technology and proving the benefits to humankind and the planet.

It’s in this context and through this lens that I turn to Australia’s place and potential in the global space sector.

Space sector’s importance to Australia

A little over a week ago, the world was abuzz with news about NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, as you all know.

The Deep Space Communications Complex located in Canberra received the last signal from the spacecraft as it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere.

The complex, managed by Australia’s premier science agency, CSIRO, was part of Cassini’s historic mission from the very beginning.

This contribution to NASA’s space exploration is just one example of the important role Australia plays in the global space industry.

Our Luncheon’s sponsor, Boeing, provides another excellent example.

When their CST-100 Starliner, which is being developed by Boeing as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, first docks at the International Space Station, its success will be in part thanks to the efforts of an Australian team.

A Brisbane-based group of engineers developed a virtual reality training system for the Starliner, which when coupled with simulators in the U.S., will teach astronauts how to operate the capsule and dock at their destination.

It will be the first time Boeing has built a system like that outside of the United States, and is a great tribute to talent and experience here in Australia that we need to continue to develop.

The space industry is vital to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing.

We want to grow the commercial potential of our space sector and harness opportunities in the global space economy.

That’s why the Australian Government has been investing in R&D in the sector and building strategic partnerships: I’ll give you a few examples.

Government’s investment

We have two Cooperative Research Centres, funded by the government to the tune of $52 million, that are conducting space-related research.

One is investigating ways to reduce the threat to space-based infrastructure from space debris.

The other is supporting critical spatial infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand for delivering essential services in health, energy, defence and urban planning, and improving farm productivity and sustainability

We’re also excited about our R&D partnership with Lockheed Martin, Inmarsat and GMV involving the testing of a Satellite-Based Augmentation System for the Australasia region.

This work, led by Geoscience Australia, is already improving GPS integrity and accuracy from 5 metres to about 0.5 metres.

And there’s Digital Earth Australia too.

Australia’s investment in this world-first analysis platform will, for example, allow start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises to use big space data to innovate and develop new products.

New Australia–US tracking treaty

Australia values working with other countries, reflected, most notably, in our successful and long-running civil space partnership with the US.

This partnership has allowed us to play a vital role in space vehicle tracking with the US and globally, and to help the US in virtually all its human and robotic missions to space.

This year marks 60 years of Australia – US cooperation in civil space - which started when NASA established a radio tracking facility in Woomera.

The relationship was formalised three years later with the signing of a bi-lateral treaty on space vehicle tracking that has continued to this day.

The treaty covers facilities such as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex—part of NASA’s Deep Space Network —as well as tracking and data relay satellite facilities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

I’m pleased that a new agreement will soon be signed, which updates the nomenclature and structure of the existing cooperating arrangement, and confirms the basis for continued cooperation.

CSIRO Agreement with Surrey Satellite

I’m also pleased to announce a new agreement that CSIRO has just signed with UK’s Surrey Satellite Technology Limited.

It’s for a 10 per cent share of tasking and acquisition time on the NovaSAR satellite, one of the world’s most sophisticated new satellites.

The NovaSAR overcomes the main drawbacks of traditional optical imaging satellites by being able to take images of Earth through clouds, and even at night.

The agreement, worth more than $10 million over seven years, will give CSIRO the highest priority to direct NovaSAR to collect radar imagery over Australia and access to data collected elsewhere around the world.

This data is highly valuable for us, especially because it can support our response to natural disasters such as cyclones and floods.

As I speak, a scale model of the NovaSAR satellite is being unveiled at the CSIRO stand in the trade hall, so I urge you to have a look and speak to CSIRO about how you might partner with them to access this data.

Emerging space sector

Part of the growth we’re seeing in the space sector is the emerging area of small satellites and other niche space activities.

Until recently, the approvals we’ve granted to Australians to launch satellites overseas were almost exclusively for large communications satellites, but this is changing.

Last year, the government gave approval to a small company, Cuberider, to send a circuit board to the International Space Station to run high school student experiments.

Don’t get me started on what these sorts of fantastic opportunities offer for the young scientists, engineers, mathematicians and entrepreneurs coming through the pipeline!

We also issued launch certificates to the Universities of Adelaide, New South Wales and Sydney, allowing them to launch their CubeSats to the ISS as part of an atmospheric research project in the thermosphere.

So we’re watching this emerging area closely—along with developments in the broader space sector—and making sure we’re responsive.

In fact, we’re on track to reform our space laws to simplify the way we regulate the sector and reduce barriers to participation in space activities.

Following on from a review of our space legislation, the Space Activities Act 1998, I expect to introduce a reform Bill to Parliament in the next Autumn sittings.

Review of Australia’s space industry capability

If I can now pull all these threads together and let you know how the Australian Government intends to optimise these activities.

As you will be aware - some months ago we commissioned a review of Australia’s space industry capability.

The review, which is well advanced, is being undertaken by an Expert Reference Group chaired by former CSIRO Chief Dr Megan Clark.

Almost 200 written submissions have been received in response to an issues paper and over 400 people have been consulted through roundtables in each state and territory.

Meetings have also been held with key stakeholders, including the state and territory governments.

An important issue Dr Clark and her colleagues have been looking into is whether Australia should have a national space agency.

From the consultation process, the Expert Reference Group has identified a number of key issues, including the need for:

  • a national strategy that builds on Australia’s strengths and identifies areas of future focus for Australia’s space sector;

  • enhanced coordination of domestic activities in Australia’s space sector;

  • a single point of coordination for international engagement and for supporting the development of key international partnerships, and

  • enhanced support to develop Australia’s space industry capability.

Given these identified needs, as you are aware, the Australian Government has announced we will go forward with the establishment of a federal space agency.

It will provide the vehicle for Australia to have a long-term strategic plan for space — a plan that supports the innovative application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry, including through defence space procurement.

And we welcome Labor’s support for our announcement. Bi-partisan support is vital for the long-term success of the agency.

But this is not just about an agency for an agency’s sake: that is why this review process is so important. We now need to put in the hard work to determine what form of agency and what mandate is best suited to support our growing space industry.

That is why I will ask the Expert Reference Group to provide advice on a possible structure and scope for the agency, as part of the strategy that it is preparing for government consideration by the end of March 2018.

The group will also continue to consider all the other aspects of the review’s terms of reference for inclusion in the final strategy.

This includes a number of analytical reports currently being prepared to inform the ERG’s considerations. This work will ensure the outcomes of the review are based on an accurate and detailed picture of the current state of Australian space sector and provide an in-depth understanding of global space sector dynamics. These reports will add to the information gathered through the consultation process and provide a strong basis for our strategic vision for the Australian space sector.

I have heard people ask ‘why even have a review?’. Well, the space industry of today is not the same as it was a decade ago, and likely not the same as it will be a decade from now. It is crucuial that we take the time now to understand that landscape and create the structures and policies – and the agency – that are right for the industry of today and tomorrow, not the industry of yesterday.

And so when people ask will we have a NASA? No. We will have an Australian space agency. Right for our nation, and right for our industry.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen - Australia has a rich history of involvement in space exploration and we’re proud that we have had the people with the know-how and the world-class facilities to be able to make a positive contribution to this global endeavour.

But we need to build on our achievements as the global space industry grows.

This calls for a strategic approach based on a clear understanding of our strengths and capabilities.

I thank Dr Clark and members of the Expert Reference Group for their work to date and I look forward to receiving their final advice.

I also thank everyone involved in making this conference and its activities possible, in particular, the South Australian Government; the IAF; the Space Industry Association of Australia; Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

As I look around the room I see the leaders of a – literally- stellar industry. One that shows the world that the very best of innovation and creative scientific thinking have no bounds.

While sophisticated technology and method push the unimaginable bounds of outer space, those same tools are delivering benefits and solutions in everyday life here on Earth.

I commend you for your leadership and look forward to our continued relationship. Thank you.