In the midst of all the budget brouhaha we’d be forgiven for missing some of the finer implementation details. One thing that I managed to glaze over was the fact that this year’s budget has plans in it for Australia to establish its own space science program:
An Innovation and Higher Education System for the 21st Century — Australian Space Science Program
Expense ($m) 2008‑09 2009‑10 2010‑11 2011‑12 2012‑13 Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research – 6.4 12.9 14.1 15.1
The Government will provide $48.6 million over four years to support the establishment of the Australian Space Science Program.
Funding of $40.0 million over four years will be available for the establishment of the Australian Space Research Program, which will support space research, innovation and skills development.
Funding of $8.6 million over four years will help establish a Space Policy Unit in the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to coordinate Australia’s national and international civil space activities, including partnerships with international space agencies.
It’s an interesting proposal. Australia as a nation doesn’t have the capital to implement a fully fledged space program of the likes of Russia and the USA (despite our resource rich country) but we do have quite a lot of people who are skilled in the area of aeronautics, and this program will be aimed at keeping those people in Australia. Currently if you want to do any serious space research you’ll usually be looking overseas to further your career, unless you’re expertise lies in Astronomy. This is a problem Australia faces not only in the area of aeronautics and quite a lot of the budget looks at stopping the brain drain that we’ve been suffering for quite a long time.
As a first step to a real space program this is probably the best move I could hope for. The establishment of the Space Policy Unit will mean that Australia will finally have a set of regulations in place for conducting activities in the aeronautical field. What this means, hopefully, is that private space companies will look to Australia as a place where they can establish their businesses. We already have a vast amount of local resources available to supply such companies and a large amount of unused landmass that could be dedicated to private launch facilities. Whilst this is probably a pipe dream for the next 10 years or so it does give that foot in the door needed to spur further interest along for the future.
So what can we expect from this program? Well I’d probably put my money down onto experiments that have been designed in Australia being flown on other countries satellites and space stations as well as improved funding for current projects. $40 million over 4 years really isn’t enough to even launch a single satellite by itself (I’m including the rocket cost in there, I know you can get things like cubesat for micro experiments) but it is more then enough to design a few space capable experiments that could be mounted on a probe or satellite. The extra funding will help out with Australia’s space presence overall, but its effects will be hard to judge until its actually implemented.
So there you have it, Australia is taking the first step towards space. About. Bloody. Time.