• A panel discussion at ADM’s Space Summit, held in Canberra and online on December 2.
Katherine Ziesing
    A panel discussion at ADM’s Space Summit, held in Canberra and online on December 2. Katherine Ziesing

Last week ADM held our second Space Summit to connect leading industry figures with government policymakers and set the scene for the year ahead.

The event was well-attended both in person and online, and also generated plenty of discussion on social media.

Morning proceedings were chaired by David Ball from Lockheed Martin Australia, and opened with a speech from Adam Seedsman, Executive Director of Strategy and Policy at the Australian Space Agency. He took the opportunity to emphasise the Agency’s role as a business facilitator rather than a traditional space agency.

“We're different to other space agencies,” Seedsman said. “We're an economic development agency. We have a mandate to establish growth through space in other core industries, such as agriculture."

Seedsman also discussed the Agency’s goals of showcasing Australian expertise in propulsion, hypersonics and space medicine, and also emphasised their close work with Defence on satellite and situational awareness capabilities.

Air Commodore Phil Gordon, RAAF’s Director General Air Defence and Space, said that Australia was moving from passively consuming space capabilities to actively contributing to them.

“For many years, we've been a consumer of space through our partners that's underpinned our operations,” AIRCDRE Gordon said. “We're now on the journey to becoming a space contributor.”

AIRCDRE Gordon also asked broad questions about Australia’s space strategy going forward: “I'm asking, where do we want a sovereign capability? And where do we want to rely on others? If we want that capability, can our industry support it?”

“How do we see ourselves in space? Do we buy boutique systems from overseas and stick them in GEO? Do we put lots of cheap systems in LEO? How much do we do for ourselves? How much do we rely on others?”

Phil Shears, director of Defence Project 799 Phase 2 for the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, said that industry will have the opportunity to contribute to that program, which aims to improve Australia’s space-based ISR capabilities.

“In 2021, the project will be undertaking industry engagements to understand Australia's strengths and capabilities,” he said. “We'll be testing assumptions on future GEOINT collection capabilities. But it's too soon for a dollar figure."

Luke Brown, Assistant Secretary – Space Services, Training Areas and Simulation for Defence, said that Australia’s international space presence has improved massively during his tenure.

“In recent months, our high-level US and UK colleagues have used the strongest words I've ever heard about partnering with allies like us,” Brown said. “I used to feel unequal in those discussions. Now I feel like an equal."

Another highlight was Adam Gilmour, founder of launch company Gilmour Space, who welcomed the government’s enthusiasm for space.

“I don't know what's happened to the government. It's like someone injected them with a 'space virus',” Gilmour said. “It's great.”

However, Gilmour emphasised the need for both government and industry investment in R&D.

“There isn't enough manufacturing - if you want sovereign capability, you have to make it,” he said. “The Americans spend nine per cent of their total defence budget on R&D. We spend 1.5 per cent. I used to be an investment banker. I spotted trends. There's an easy spend to spot here.”

He was also coy about his company’s potential to contribute to hypersonics programs, saying only that there was ‘plenty of potential.’”

Other launch companies, including Equatorial Launch and Rocket Lab, provided updates on their progress. NZ-based Rocket Lab is actually the world’s second-busiest commercial launch operator after SpaceX.

The core message from the day was that Australia’s space industry set to grow in leaps and bounds. We’re excited for next year’s event, to be held in the second half of the year in Canberra.

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