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Space Agency head reaffirms commitment to public safety through launch ops

Stephen Kuper

Inaugural head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark, AC, has identified safe access to space as one of the seven National Civil Space Priorities in the 10-year plan, Advancing Space: Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028.

Space Agency head reaffirms commitment to public safety through launch ops
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While Australia's proud and storied history as a space launch nation, particularly during the early days of the Cold War, may not be well understood or known by the Australian public, Dr Clark is working to not only highlight its proud history, but also the potential returned launch operations present. 

"Australia has a heritage in space activities. The Long Tom rocket was Australia’s first successful sounding rocket in the late 1950s and reached space on several launches, crossing the Karman line, which for some is considered the boundary for space at 100 kilometres. Pieces of the first Long Tom to reach 100 kilometres are displayed at the Australian Space Agency headquarters at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide," Dr Clark explained. 

A key priority for the new global space race, particularly as Australia once again positions itself to become a viable, sustainable space launch centre is public safety, something Dr Clark is equally passionate about: "There are exciting emerging opportunities for Australia to leverage international space missions and commercial launch activities from Australian territory. Protecting national safety and security and meeting Australia’s international and national obligations will be essential elements of a successful domestic civil launch capability."

Expanding on this, Dr Clark added, "This means being safe on Earth, safe getting into space, safe in space and getting back home safely to Earth. Space is hazardous. In testing new capabilities failures can be expected.

"However, it is important that effective safety systems are in place that allow for failure in a safe environment. This calls on the very best capability, technology and innovation to come together to meet the challenges and rigors of space activities. It means being trusted by our international partners to meet our commitments, which will be achieved by being safe and secure."

In order to support the continued shift and focus on public safety, the Space Agency has recently updated Australia’s space legislation to meet the needs of Australia’s growing industry with a regulatory environment that balances safety and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Dr Clark explained, "This includes the passage of the Space (Launches and Returns) Amendment Act 2018, in consultation with the sector, including on the associated framework. There are not only Australian obligations. We have multilateral and sometimes bilateral commitments with each launch and return. Launching a space object activates certain international obligations, and includes potential liability for the Commonwealth of Australia."

"The agency is the responsible Commonwealth entity that regulates space activities that go beyond 100 kilometres above mean sea level, or involve high power rockets.  Space launches occurring require approval under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 and its associated framework.

"This legislation is in place to ensure public safety and security. It requires detailed information, such as rocket flight paths, emergency management plans and security arrangements.

"Establishing a domestic civil launch capability will bring with it significant spin-off benefits including new jobs and manufacturing opportunities for rocket components and payloads. It is important we lay the groundwork carefully. The agency is committed to working with industry on their proposals and licence applications. Our legislation is clear, our rules are clear. I hold firm on making sure we’re safe and responsible. This is a serious issue for public safety and the environment."

Looking towards the future, Dr Clark remains positive and upbeat about the future of Australia's space industry and the launch industry as a whole, saying, "Australia can build on its heritage in space activities. If we work together on our safety we’ll set the right framework for generations to come. The agency is committed to building a safe and responsible future civil rocket launch capability that inspires and instils pride in all Australians."

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