Last week the Australian Government released the highly anticipated Report on the Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability (Report) and the Australian Government’s Response to that Report (Response). The funding and policy commitments made by the Government in the Response herald the most significant suite of reforms for the sector in recent times.

These reforms will impact satellite-based service providers (communications, imagery and positioning) and manufacturers, space start-ups, research institutions, and government – and will have implications for those sectors that rely on space-based technologies including financial services, agriculture, transport, manufacturing and construction. Regulatory reform is also on the horizon with a draft space Bill slated for release during 2018.

The Response commits the Government to implementing (in-principle) all nine of the recommendations made by the Expert Reference Group in the Report. The recommendations address investment, governance, regulatory and strategic matters relevant to the sector. However, the Report’s key recommendation is the creation of a dedicated, ongoing and whole-of-government agency ‘to realise Australia’s civil ambitions in space’ – a recommendation foreshadowed last year. The Response commits the Government to establishing this Australian Space Agency from 1 July 2018.

The commitments made by the Government in the Response follow this month’s Budget announcements. As part of the 2018-19 Budget, the Government allocated $26 million over the next four years for the Agency’s operational funding and $15 million to invest in international space projects. $224.9 million was also allocated between two separate items over four years from 2018-19 to improve the accuracy and integrity of satellite navigation.

The success of the Government’s strategy to drive investment and position Australia as a key participant in the global space economy will depend largely on the function and capability of the Agency. The article examines the key aspects of the Government’s strategy particularly having regard to the central role of the Agency.

Key aspect

What you need to know…

Establishing a dedicated, ongoing, and whole-of-government statutory agency

  • Agency to be established by the Government through a soft launch on 1 July 2018.
  • As a unit within the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Agency’s operations to be facilitated initially by department staff (although the Agency could seek to procure external capability on an exceptions basis).
  • Agency’s operations to be reviewed over the next four years and a statutory basis for the Agency to be determined after that.
  • The bulk of the Agency’s functions are yet to be determined – the Charter developed in the Review will operate as a guiding document for the Agency’s operations until a formal charter is developed.

Developing a strategy to support and prioritise space activity

  • Agency to be responsible for preparing a national civil space industry strategy (Strategy) that will seek to triple the size of the Australian space industry to $10-12bn by 2030.
  • The strategic priority areas for growth, as identified in the Report, will be considered by the Agency in the development of the Strategy. These priority areas cover everything from communication technologies and satellite data to space debris monitoring, navigation infrastructure and research and development.

Funding and investment

  • Agency to receive initial operational funding of $26 million over four years. The Government will also invest $15 million over 3 years to enable the Agency to collaborate with international space agencies on strategic projects, enabling participation from Australian business.
  • Agency to provide to the Government analysis of the costs and benefits of creating a ‘Space Industry Development Fund’. The purpose of the Fund would be to facilitate investment in international partnerships, industry-led collaboration and national nodes (it may also provide early stimulus to national infrastructure (e.g. enabling commercial ground stations and shared test facilities)).

International and domestic engagement

  • Agency to actively engage with domestic and international stakeholders from industry and the community to better support long-term, sustainable growth in the sector.
  • Agency to examine opportunities to link the Australian space industry to the purchasing needs of government, noting that the procurement requirements of individual portfolios (e.g. Department of Defence) will remain the priority.
  • Agency to work closely with other Commonwealth and State / Territory agencies to create alignments in investment approaches and engagement with Australia’s space industry, as well as approaches to STEM education / training and industry-led research.

Reshaping the regulatory environment

  • The Space Activities Act (Act) is currently under review – it is proposed that the Act will be streamlined to ensure that regulation of Australian space activities is not unnecessarily burdensome.
  • It is anticipated that the revised Act will be introduced into Parliament this year.