Establishing Critical National Space and Spatial Systems
Australia has a small space industry and relies heavily on the goodwill and cooperation of the world’s spacefaring nations for access to vital space-based assets, products and services. For Australia to take its place as a modern space nation capable of managing its own space needs, rapid and very substantial growth in our space industry is required. What are the must-have capabilities that Australia will need to integrate into the nation’s space and spatial ecosystem to optimise growth and build national resilience over the next decade that are not yet part of any published and intended plans? What additional steps need to be taken to ensure assured access to the full range of space and spatial related capabilities needed by this nation?
Australia’s capacity to design and manufacture critical elements of space systems is increasing but from a much lower base than many countries with equivalent economies. Key issues for growth include the level of desired sovereign capability and the balance of sourcing from domestic markets and international markets, the right size for Australia’s space manufacturing and testing capability and answering the question of how to sustain this capability in a globally competitive and often distorted market. Other countries use offsets to ‘protect’ national capabilities, but Australia moved away from that policy some time ago. What mechanisms can be brought to bear to ensure Australian manufacturers can compete in international markets? Should a level of Australian content be mandated? Which areas of the space supply chain should not be developed in Australia but should still be sourced from overseas? What underlying capabilities will deliver the most sustainable and enduring space and spatial industries?
The ability to connect space services and spatial information products with end-users is vital to the growth of the Australian space and spatial sectors. Without sufficient spectrum and the capacity to downlink large amounts of data, many of the emerging growth areas in the space and spatial domain will be constrained. The challenges of accommodating more satellite systems within existing spectrum allocations as well as finding spectrum for the increasing amounts of data to be downlinked is driving significant development activity. Australia has world class capability in ground infrastructure and has opportunities as a location for ground networks for high volume data downlinks. There are a number of activities that Australia could undertake. They include Australia playing an active role in international fora to preserve key spectrum for space and spatial activities including in higher spectrum bands and for optical links. An information campaign could raise awareness across all government agencies of the critical strategic importance of satellite spectrum for the space and spatial industry and how erosion of satellite spectrum will reduce the availability of space and spatial services; exploring all opportunities for Australia to provide high speed data downlink sites for space and spatial data particularly for high data downlinks from Asian, European and American satellites. The Australian development of waveforms and spectrum sharing techniques could be encouraged and supported as well as on-board processing techniques to optimise the downlinking of essential data. Focusing research on emerging technologies such as Australian development of optical communications capabilities and infrastructure as well as exploration of higher Radio Frequency bands to reduce interference and increase capacity of satellite communications could create global market opportunities for Australian industry.
Finally, Australia’s growing security dependence on space and the increasing vulnerability of national security space capabilities has created the need to rethink the scope and scale of Defence space capabilities. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update states the intent for sovereign space capabilities in both satellite communication and satellite imaging capabilities and the recognition of space as a military operating domain. This increased focus on space capabilities, with a corresponding increase in future funding, for our national security creates new opportunities for Australian industry to develop and deliver space-based capabilities to government, both directly and in partnership with international allies.