Australian Space Agency Lost In Canberra
by Morris Jones for Space Daily
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 09, 2018
The creation of an Australian Space Agency (ASA) was one of the first budget "sweeteners" leaked by the Australian government in the lead-up to the 2019 Australian federal budget. This suggested that the government expected the idea to resonate as good news, and it has certainly created a wave of hope for Australia's relatively disenfranchised space community. But much of the details remain clouded in spin and a lack of solid outlines.
The subject was barely mentioned in treasurer Scott Morrison's address from Parliament House. More hard facts will gradually appear as the Agency translates from talk into action, but there are reasons to be cautious.
First, the good news. Government will provide $50 million as seed funding, and the former chief of the Australian research body CSIRO Meagan Clark will head the ASA for the first year. But the very use of the term "seed" should raise alerts. More money than this will be required for the Agency to be effective in the long-term, and much of the rest (or possibly all) is presumably expected to come from industry.
Is this reasonable or even realistic? The Australian space industry is small in terms of size and capital. Will Australia's local boffins really fork over tens of millions of dollars to support a government bureaucracy? Much of Australia's local innovation comes from government-sponsored institutions. Will they be allowed to channel funds to the Agency?
We also don't know if the structure or staffing of the ASA will be effective. A combination of poor funding and poor action could lead to a useless agency. We have already had a bad experience with the underperforming Australian Space Office of the 1980s. The new Agency could have more money, and run better, but could still not do well enough to elevate the nation's space sector.
The Agency will not support the development of a sustainable space industry without broad support across the political spectrum over a long period. Getting such support is difficult for any new venture. Right now, nobody knows how the Agency will be regarded by other parties or potential governments. It's difficult to expect anyone to form those views when so little is actually known.
There is still reason for hope. The ASA could serve as an effective interface between the Australian space community and the rest of the world. That would not only help the local industry but also boost Australia's overall profile on the world stage. Even a little seed money could help productive ventures to grow if it falls on fertile ground.
Critical analysis of these issues is somewhat lacking in most media coverage and commentaries on the ASA. That's also cause for concern. So far, the Agency has been served to us as a sweet appetizer. But the main course could be sour when it is finally served.
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has written for spacedaily.com since 1999. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.
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