Australian space takes its place on the world stage

For an organisation that only launched 1 July 2018, the Australian Space Agency (ASA) has made some pretty impressive progress.  The most visible example of that was seeing Anthony Murfett Deputy Director of the ASA take his place (virtually) alongside the G20 Space Agency leaders as part of the Saudi Arabia hosted, inaugural G20 Space Leaders Conference.

Recurrent themes were connectedness, cooperation and sustainability – truly unifying themes for a world sometimes better understood in terms of its divisions.

If this conference were held in March 2018 – Australia may not have had a representative.  Australia’s space journey is a strange one.  In the 1960s observers would have remarked that Australia was at the leading edge of space research and exploration – with Woomera and Parkes we had globally recognised space assets.  But we drifted, focused on other economic priorities and – rightly or wrongly – didn’t re-recognise the opportunity of space until the late 2010s.

But Australia is now back in space!  And taking its place alongside its leaders.

The event saw Space Agency leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies come together to discuss the future space economy – and the significant potential it offers to support economies as they recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz opened the event by talking about his own experiences of seeing the Earth from space. He is the first member of a royal family to fly in space. On the first day in space, astronauts look at the Earth and point at their own country. By day five, they point to the Earth as one. And it was with this spirit of unity that he encouraged delegates to come together to invest in the future of the planet, and not just siloed in their economies.

Anthony Murfett spoke about Australia’s ambition in space, the focus on industry as the driver for jobs and economic growth in our space economy. He explained the Australian government recognises the importance of space technologies in driving societal and economic transformation and that the industry will play an important role in the future. Space offers opportunities to bring in new innovative solutions and innovation, which can, for instance, support in achieving environmental and sustainable goals. Mr Murfett also spoke about the Agency’s ambition to inspire both parents and children to engage with space, preparing the next generation for the jobs of the future.

We also heard from the USA, China, Indonesia, South Africa – genuinely all parts of the world speaking about how important space is to their economy – valued by some speakers at nearly USD $400b per annum to the world.

Space is everywhere – and its importance has been particularly felt this year through virtual technology that enabled remote work, broadband which connected us with others, and Earth observation which enabled us to assess the impact of the pandemic. In the years ahead, space will be an enabler in driving sustainability to protect our planet, advances in healthcare such as 3D organ printing, and innovation in manufacturing.

Cooperation will be key – not just between public and private sectors, but also within the global community, as challenges such as space debris, climate change and the involvement of an increasing number of players will need to be overcome.

What was clear from the session is that there is common understanding of the strong potential of space to not only help the global economy recover, but also make our planet more sustainable – and that there is a mutual desire to turn this into a reality.

An inspiring event, which marks only the beginning of enhanced global collaboration.

Read 30 Voices on 2030. The Future of Space.

Thanks to Sophia Lanfranconi for her help with this article.

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