Government urged to watch this space

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06e817d5e0ee2b0af98a2c6042e00e76 - Government urged to watch this space

Two of Australia’s leading satellite firms are leading calls for the ­creation of an Australian space agency, with Speedcast and Fleet declaring the time is right for the government to back the fast-growing industry.

The ASX-listed Speedcast is the world’s biggest satellite ser­vices provider and chief executive Pierre-Jean Beylier said currently Australia is one of only two OECD countries that do not have a space agency.

Our current activity amounts to less than 1 per cent of the global space economy, he says, and it’s time we took the next step.

“Space is the next frontier. It will be important economically, politically, and militarily to have space capabilities, and I think it’s time for Australia to consider it,” Mr Beylier told The Australian.

“Australia with its talent, its universities, and its engineers that come out of the country has a real role to play in the space sector.

“Speedcast is one of the largest buyers of commercial capacity in the world and we’d be very happy to help.”

Mr Beylier said it would be a weakness to rely on other countries’ capabilities, given space is becoming more relevant on a number of fronts.

“It’s an area that deserves the government’s attention,” he said.

“The government has already started investing in this space through the NBN with two satellites, and this would be taking that to the next level.”

He said until now the only Australian initiatives in the space arena originated from private ­investment, which limited their impact.

Reversing those trends can’t be done without the government’s commitment, hence the necessity for Australia to consider such a project.

“The demand for manufacturing and launching capacities, as well as satellite services, is obvious, and the return on investment in that sector is high,” he said.

“For every dollar invested by the US government into the NASA, studies estimate the return on investment to be between $US7 and $US14. “

Key innovations such as re­usable rockets and constant optimisation of the equipment used are reducing the costs of launch dramatically.

The CEO, who has led the company since 2004, said a space agency would also attract experts to Australia, and enable the development of future talent in this country, which would allow it to become a leader in the satellite ­industry.

“Our current tertiary education in this sector is limited, and most of the talent we do create usually moves to the US, France or Germany to work in more powerful companies and on more challenging projects,” he said.

“The value of scientific assets, data and expertise we can generate can’t be ignored.”

Speedcast, which has about 1200 employees, provides satellite communications to Border Force’s patrol boats and provides wire­less and 4G services to Christmas Island.

Mr Beylier’s comments were echoed by Fleet chief executive Flavia Tata Nardini.

Fleet is a nano-satellite start-up that recently raised $5 million in a Series A round from Blackbird Ventures and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, and is planning to launch its first nano-satellite next year.

“I really believe a national space agency would provide the kind of support, regulation and ecosystem that now is missing in Australia,” Ms Tata Nardini, a space engineer, told The ­Australian.

“I come from a background working in Europe for quite a while so I do have an idea of what a space agency can do for a ­country.”

Ms Tata Nardini said New Zealand’s government heavily supports its space start-ups, such as Rocket Lab, which provides ­rocket launch services for companies such as Fleet.

“We could be way more competitive,” she said.

“Our company will soon have many employees and I want us to stay here.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Industry Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos said, “the Commonwealth Government is in the process of assessing our national space policy and the opportunities that the continuing development of the space industry provides for Australia. “

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