Australia and NZ need to co-ordinate space efforts, says NZ academic

Max Blenkin

Australia and New Zealand must to work together in space, co-ordinate activities, play to strengths and avoid replicating each other’s efforts, according to an Auckland-based academic.

That could mean Australia staying out of launch services entirely, as New Zealand already has a considerable lead, says an article in The Diplomat magazine.

Author Nicholas Borroz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland, said the new Australian Space Agency was aiming high but there were questions as to whether the small budget could really support the government’s goal of building a $12 billion national space industry by 2030.

“To increase its likelihood of success, Australia must target its resources. And to do this most effectively, it should co-ordinate with neighbouring New Zealand,” he wrote.

“Both countries have recently created space agencies to build their space sectors. But New Zealand is further along in its efforts and Australia should avoid replicating the niche New Zealand is building for itself in the space economy.

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“For the benefit of both countries’ space sectors, Australia should complement, not compete with, New Zealand.”

New Zealand is already conducting commercial rocket launches at a facility set up by US company Rocket Lab, founded by New Zealander Peter Beck.

 

In Australia, two spaceports are under development, in the Northern Territory and South Australia, but there’s no clear commercial reason to build this launch capacity, the article said.

Australia’s main international space partners are NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and hosts satellite ground stations for each.

But neither seem likely to provide enough demand to support Australia-based launch services as each already has new launch providers coming on board – NASA is using the Rocket Lab facility in New Zealand and a new facility being developed in the US. ESA can use Portugal’s proposed new Atlantic Ocean launchpad.

“Some launch service start-ups exist in Australia, but it seems improbable that they will catch up with Rocket Lab anytime soon. Australian officials tout the country’s southern hemisphere location as having benefits for launches, but New Zealand shares similar geographical advantages,” the article said.

“Given how new its space agency is, Australia is still in the process of developing its space strategy. Its policymakers ought to take advantage of this opportunity to formulate a strategy that complements New Zealand.

“If Australia cannot catch up with New Zealand as a launch services provider, it will end up wasting money and time. And even if it instead does manage to catch up to New Zealand, then the two countries will compete with each other and undermine their ability to make any profit.”

So to avoid this occurring, Australia should position its space economy to harmonise with New Zealand, and it can do that in three ways.

Australia could offer different launch services, for larger satellites or missions beyond Earth’s orbit.

Australia could target different customers, such as Chinese payloads.

Or Australia could stay out of launch services and focus on areas of competitive advantage, such as ground stations and astronomy.

“Alternatively, Australia could focus on entirely new areas such as space debris management. The agency has indicated interest in debris management, which is of growing importance as space becomes more crowded, so specialising in it now may set Australia up for long-term gains,” Borroz said.

“Both Australia and New Zealand have signed agreements with several other countries’ space agencies, but they have not yet signed an agreement with each other. As a first step, Canberra should sign an agreement with Wellington that defines complementary areas for the two countries to grow their space sectors.

“Only by co-ordinating with its neighbour here on Earth can Australia succeed as an important actor in the space economy.”

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