Saturday 21 February 2004

The Australian Space Programme

Australian-American Astronaut Andy Thomas speaks of it - or rather, the lack of it, in the Age :
Because Australia has not been involved in space exploration in any degree to speak of, it is becoming further behind other countries in owning and embracing a fundamental capability in the modern world.

"I think that's going to be a loss for Australia in terms of economic loss in the future. I think it tends to hinder education and stifles R&D and these are activities that are important for any modern society . . . you get innovation, you get start-up companies, you get economic progress, and Australia's going to lose in the long term by not having a philosophy that embraces these."

Thomas says young Australians also lose out because it denies them the opportunity to be involved in the space program. "I tell them to write to political leaders and start pushing them. And I think a new generation of Australians will grow up, hopefully influenced by what they've seen me do, and they will enter into positions of influence where they can change future federal policies, and I think that will be very healthy for the future of the country."

Australia's involvement in space travel is, indeed, limited. Most attention centres on NASA's Tidbinbilla tracking station,
...and incidentally, not far from where I'm writing this
...which is only in the country because of Australia's geographic position. In December 2002, the first Australian-built satellite in 35 years ; the $20 million, 60 kilogram, half-metre, cube-shaped micro-satellite FedSat ; was launched on a Japanese rocket. This is something Australia should do much more of, says Thomas.
Hear Hear! As for me, I'm singing "Once I built a Spacecraft, Now it's done: Buddy, Can you spare a Dime?" (The Tip Jar's on the left)
"The pay-off for human space exploration is undeniably long term, so I don't think it's wise to say, OK Australia, jump on this and send astronauts to the space station. But Australia should have an interest in space technologies because they are of paramount importance in modern defence systems."

"The Iraq war hinged on information that came from satellites . . . and if Australia's going to have a strong presence in its local region against threats from other countries, which we know now are steadily increasing and becoming more and more real at the terrorist level, then Australia must have its own space-based assets with which to defend itself."
Well, yes. FedSat proved that we can do this, and that it needn't cost the Earth. Should we do it locally, there are immediate tax benefits (it's highly labour-intensive, so the Government will get at least 30% of the cost in tax revenue), and there are export opportunities, even though the Aussie Dollar is now more like 80c US than the 47c it was 2 years ago. But then again, I'm not exactly objective here. I just don't want to have to wait 35 years before the next time we put up a satellite.

No comments: