Australia is no longer a bit player on world stage of space exploration

Australia is no longer a bit player on world stage of space exploration

Max Blenkin

Fifty years on from the first moon landing, Australia’s future is bright, said a leading Australian space academic.

Professor Anna Moore, director of the Institute for Space at the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said Australia this month marked its own significant anniversary.

That’s the first birthday of the new Australian Space Agency, officially formed on 1 July last year.

She said Australia was operating at a slightly smaller scale today than an Apollo moon mission might require but there was no need to let issues of scale diminish our vision of where this journey could take Australia.

“Australia is not a bit player on the world stage of space exploration. With careful cultivation and collaboration under the auspices of a well-funded and focused space agency, the opportunities are there, the talent is here and the future is bright,” she wrote in an article in The Australian Financial Review.

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She said Australia is in an enviable position in the new space economy and to understand why required an appreciation of what space meant today compared with 50 years ago.

When the US landed its first astronauts on the moon in 1969, the US and the USSR were locked in a pitched battle to exert global political dominance.

 

But when future generations look back, they will remember the first steps by Neil Armstrong and his colleagues. Events that seem important now will fade with time.

Professor Moore said 50 years on, the global return to the heavens was being fuelled by cheaper access to orbital and eventually deep space through commercial platforms.

For some of the new space technology, Australia is a world leader in areas such as communications infrastructure.

“Now, instead of beaming grainy frames of astronauts on the moon, Australian researchers and industry alike are engaged in revolutionary quantum communications, pushing the very edges of physics to bring secure, high-fidelity bandwidth to global communications,” she said.

“Our work in Earth observing, in mapping resources to create a more sustainable future for our children, is also revolutionary.”

Professor Moore said the Australian community had responded with clear unanimity since the launch of the Space Agency.

“Inspired by the focus provided by the Australian Space Agency, a truly national effort, spanning industry, research and Defence, we have begun to engage and exploit leapfrog research and test new industry development,” she said.

“Hundreds of million dollars in cash has been raised and invested over the past year on various space-related initiatives within Australia. This is a great start to earn those important runs on the board.”

Ongoing and sustainable success depended on emphasis on a national effort and there was no one state versus another in this game, she said.

When man first set foot on the moon in 1969, technology was the key driver and the moon landing the ultimate expression of political will.

“Although technology still motivates us, the drivers to get back to space are different now. In a more complex world, we need to ask more sophisticated questions,” she said.

“Again, Australia is in the right place at the right time to lead that discussion. We can bring a holistic approach to space exploration, factoring in the legal and ethical frameworks of cutting-edge research and technology. We can look to space, not only to learn through exploration, but to help solve problems here on Earth.”

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