World science festival: australia ‘lags rest of the world in space exploration

World science festival: australia ‘lags rest of the world in space exploration

27 March 2017

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Australia —  Australia’s contribution to space exploration lags shamefully behind the rest of the world, experts say.

Panellists at the World Science Festival’s Earth 2.0 forum criticised Australia’s lack of a space agency, flagging it as an important area of investment in the future.

Andrew Thomas, Australian-born NASA astronaut and the first Australian to travel to space, said the space industry was valued at $350 billion a year worldwide, and growing at $10 billion a year.

“Australia’s current share is 0.8 per cent, which is shameful,” Dr Thomas said.

He said while an Australian space agency would not yet be concerned with launching people into space, there were a range of reasons why an agency was a valuable proposition.

Geologist and president of the Mars Society Australia, Jon Clarke, said Australia exposed itself to significant vulnerabilities by not having its own satellite resources.

He said Australian bushfire monitoring system Sentinel relied on raw satellite data being processed in the United States, which posed a major risk during the US Government shut-down of 2013.

“Because government workers had to handle [the data], they couldn’t do it,” he said.

“Right in the middle of the bush fire season, we lost one of our key strands in bushfire monitoring.

“We could’ve had another Victorian bushfire, or another Canberra bushfire… without the early warning, without the remote sensing to allow us to predict it.”

He said our reliance on outsourcing satellite resources had impacts across the board.

“All of our satellite navigation we get for free, if countries start charging us for space navigation services, where will we be?” he said.

‘Space agency would unlock Australia’s potential’

Dr Clarke said the Australian public needed to put pressure on the Government to overcome political hostility towards space exploration.

“Those of us who think Australia should have a space agency have been trying to convince the Government to do this for 50 years, and we haven’t quite succeeded yet,” he said.

“If we as a people… want to have a say in what happens with solar system exploration, we need to be lobbying our politicians to invest money, stimulate industry and stimulate research into these fields.

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Dr Thomas said a space agency would unlock Australia’s potential to be involved in space exploration in the future.

“The naysayers say Australia doesn’t need a space industry because it doesn’t have a space program, but Australia doesn’t have a space program because it doesn’t have a space industry,” he said.

“A human stepping onto Mars will be one of the great undertakings of the 21st century, and I certainly hope we get to see it happen.”

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