ADM’s first Space Summit took place in Canberra this week, attracting government and industry leaders to present on the local space sector and its intersection with Defence.
Attendees and speakers included: Dr Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency; Luke Brown, Assistant Secretary of the new Space and Communications Branch for Defence; Valentin Merino, head of Defence and Space Australasia for Airbus; Adam Gilmour, founder of Gilmour Space Technology; Scott Wallis, founder of Equatorial Launch Australia; and Prof Craig Smith, CEO of EOS Space Systems.
Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency Anthony Murfett opened proceedings with a look at developments in space over the past year, including Japan’s Hayubasa 2 landing on an asteroid, NASA’s Voyager 2 entering interstellar space, China’s Chang’e-4 landing on the far side of the moon, and of course, the first image of a black hole.
Murfett also spoke on the role of the Agency in nurturing Australia’s space presence.
“We’re here to provide policy and strategic advice to government and to coordinate our environment. Having an agency means we can be a conduit for understanding what opportunities are out there,” Murfett said.
“The other path we know is important is navigating the blurred relationship between Defence and civil space capabilities. If we’re able to grow Australian industry that means we grow capabilities for the whole ecosystem, including Defence.”
Murfett also observed Australia’s unique ability to leverage technology developed for other industry sectors, particularly mining.
“Our robotics and autonomy focus is about leveraging our mining sector,” Murfett told the audience. “If we look at mines in the Pilbara, they’re operated remotely. I’ve been behind the driller as she was drilling, but the drill was 1600 kilometres to the north.
“There’s a role Australia can play here – leveraging technology that already exists in one sector and applying it to space.”
Luke Brown, Assistant Secretary of Space and Communication Branch for Defence, also spoke despite being in the newly-formed role for less than 24 hours.
“My position, my existence, is evidence of a changing view of how we deal with the space environment in Defence,” Brown said. “I’ve got instructions to work with other areas to make sure we’re all coherent and have a program of work that we can all understand.
“So much of what we’re doing is about assurance of the capability. The environment is contested. That’s what’s different. That’s why I now exist. It’s not so much about what we use it for, but more about how we keep access to it.”
Brown emphasised that solving Defence’s space-related problems is a cooperative effort.
“My part of the job is to be good at describing to you what our capability problems are. It’s not my job to work out what to buy. It’s for us to work together to find the solution,” Brown said.
ASPI’s Dr Malcom Davis took the podium to give a strategic perspective on space capabilities and how Australia can best prepare.
“There’s been a change in thinking and discussions since the Agency was stood up about establishing a sovereign space segment – its not just about continuing a ground-based space segment but operating in space ourselves,” Dr Davis said.
“For the first time in my lifetime, we’re actually doing something really significant. I don’t see us going back to the apathy of past policy.
“We need to sustain and accelerate the momentum of developing space expertise in this country, and that means getting people excited about space. Young people want to see rockets, so ground-based space capabilities won’t cut it.”
Adam Gilmour of Gilmour Space gave an indication of the conversations his company is having with Defence and foreign militaries about how their capabilities can meet threats posed to military space ISR and comms systems.
“We spend a lot of time talking to militaries about tactical satellite replenishment,” Gilmour said. “The vehicle we’re developing can launch within 24 hours and re-establish communications and hopefully in the future some kind of GPS capability as well.”
Scott Wallis of Equatorial Launch Australia highlighted how his company is working with Indigenous landowners as they seek to capitalise on Australia’s proximity to the equator.
“I’ve made it a priority to work with Indigenous landowners. Their priority is their children,” Wallis said. “They just want jobs for the future and the opportunity to go to school.”
An engaging presentation came from Dr Nikki Coleman, a space military ethicist at UNSW Canberra.
"We think about space war being conducted in space. But in reality our uses of space are quite different,” Dr Coleman said. “Our use of space in the military is reliance. We use it for comms, navigation, logistics. That causes earthly problems."
More on Defence and space is available in the April edition of ADM.