UK and Australia launch new space bridge agreement

Max Blenkin

The United Kingdom and Australia have announced a new “space bridge” agreement to boost cooperation between the two governments, their regulators and industry.

This follows the model of the successful “fintech bridge” and lays the the foundations for speedy negotiation of space-related opportunities under any future post-Brexit UK-Australia trading arrangements.

The agreement was announced at the UK Space Conference this week and builds on the memorandum of understanding signed by the two national space agencies in October last year.

It will serve as a base for discussions, especially space-related opportunities, between governments, regulators and industry of the two nations.

“This latest agreement builds on a number of recent international agreements that are positioning Australia to play an increasingly important role in the global space industry,” said Australian Space Agency head Megan Clark.

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UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock said the UK space heritage has strong links to Australia, with the first British rockets lifting off from Woomera in the 1950s.

“We are committed to strengthening our friendship and partnership,” he said.

 

“A space bridge agreement will bring significant benefits to both our thriving space industries, facilitating new trade and investment opportunities and the exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

Under the agreement, the two space agencies will work with the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) and Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) and with industry leaders such as the UK Satellite Applications Catapult and the new Australian SmartSat Collaborative Research Centre.

The space agencies, along with DIT and Austrade, will now focus on developing the Space Bridge Framework Agreement.

Last year, the two space agencies launched the Surrey Satellite NovaSAR, which is designed to use radar to view the Earth and share 10 per cent of its data with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The UK-Australia Fintech Bridge came into effect in March last year seems a good model for enhanced space collaboration after Britain departs the EU.

It aims to offer Australian and UK fintech start-ups more speedy entry into each country’s regulatory systems and faster licence processing for companies already holding a licence in the opposing country.

“We will work to identify emerging trends, share policy developments, and position firms for the challenges of entering a foreign market,” then Treasurer Scott Morrison said at the time.

“It will provide exciting new opportunities for trade and investment into the future, in an ever-increasingly digital world where innovation and competitive edge are paramount.”

The new agreement has prompted fresh media discussion of the prospects of hypersonic travel between Australia and the UK, with craft powered by the Sabre engine now under development in the UK.

The ultimate dream is an hour from the UK to New York or four hours to Australia.

“I really like the concrete sense of a bridge linking us, and when we have brought the Sabre rocket engine to fruition, that may in a sense be the manifestation of that space bridge, enabling us to get to Australia in perhaps as little as four hours,” Mr Turnock told the UK Telegraph newspaper. 

“Once you’ve got hypersonic engines operating, then that kind of journey time is achievable. 

“This is technology that could definitely deliver that. We’re talking the 2030s for operational service, and the work is already very advanced.”

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