24 August 2023
Australia’s north and space
This report examines opportunities for the development of sovereign space capability in the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia. Given that those northern jurisdictions are closer to the equator, there’s a natural focus in the report on the potential opportunities offered by sovereign space launch, particularly in the Northern Territory and Queensland. However, I also consider the potential for other aspects of space besides launch, including space domain awareness, the establishment of satellite ground stations, and space industry. I explore the potential for the co-location of space industry—domestic and international—within or close to launch sites, which would result in the development of ‘space hubs’ in strategic locations in Australia.
Benefits are gained by situating space-launch sites as close to the equator as possible, and two sites—Nhulunbuy near Gove in the Northern Territory and Abbot Point near Bowen in Queensland—are now under development. The closer a launch site is to the equator, the greater the benefit in terms of reduced cost per kilogram of payload to orbit, due to velocity gained by a rocket from the Earth’s rotation.
The report then explores the transformation of Australia’s space sector that’s occurred within the past decade, from one solely dependent on foreign-provided satellite services and locally developed ground-segment capabilities, including for space domain awareness, to the growth of sovereign space industry and the establishment of the Australian Space Agency in 2018. I note that, since the establishment of the agency, Australia’s commercial space sector has expanded rapidly, but now faces headwinds, with the recent cancellation of the National Space Mission for Earth Observation being a serious blow to Australia’s space industry. The Australian space industry sector must now fight to sustain funding. In this report, I argue that the best way to achieve success is to emphasise sovereign launch as a focus for Australian space activities and to reinforce the potential opportunities offered by the north, including for defence and national-security requirements in space.