• The decision to set launch fees raises prices for Australian spaceports relative to international competitors.
    The decision to set launch fees raises prices for Australian spaceports relative to international competitors. Pixabay

The government has made a long-awaited decision and announced the introduction of partial cost recovery arrangements for space launches in Australia.

Under the model, work on launch permits conducted by the Australian Space Agency (ASA) will not be cost recovered through fees, whilst work conducted outside the ASA will be.

“This means that the most frequently assessed applications (Overseas Payload Permits) are not expected to attract a fee,” the ASA said in a statement. “Assessments likely to be cost recovered would involve complex applications, requiring consideration by a technical expert contractor, ensuring activities are as safe as reasonably practicable.

“To support these assessments, the Agency is working towards lifting in-house capability, including recruitment of staff with specific expertise.”

The rules include a mechanism for the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology to waive fees at her discretion, which “could include consideration of support for innovation in the sector.”

“Prior to the introduction of the partial cost recovery arrangements, the Agency will undertake consultation on the draft rules for fees prior to commencement of charging,” the ASA said.

Consultation will begin in March and April and is expected to include: when partial cost recovery will likely be applied; the amount of a fee and/or a way of working out the fee; timing for payment; circumstances in which a fee may be wholly or partly waived.

“As Australia develops a world-class regulatory system, the Agency remains focused on enabling entrepreneurship while ensuring national safety and security,” the ASA said. “The above arrangements represent a balance of encouraging innovation in the sector, while ensuring relevant costs are cost recovered from industry consistent with the Government’s Cost Recovery Guidelines.”

The charging model will be reviewed in 2022–23.

Advocates have previously argued against the introduction of launch fees, saying that the additional cost will price local launch companies out of the international market and drive Australian satellite providers to overseas locations, such as the Rocket Lab facility in NZ.

The International Aerospace Law and Policy Group (IALPG), an Australian aerospace law firm, has previously said the imposition of fees would ‘defeat the aspirations of the Australian public for an Australian space industry.’

“While we acknowledge that the broader Australian public should be able to realise a return-on-investment from a vibrant Australian space industry, that return-on-investment comes through the 20,000 extra jobs, export earnings that arise from a tripling of the size of the Australian space industry, greater global influence in respect of space activities and inspiration of the Australian public, each of which are objectives that the Agency is expressly mandated to achieve,” the IALPG said.

Gilmour Space founder Adam Gilmour told ADM that the proposal is better than expected but still falls short of international competition.

“We would have preferred a zero-fee structure, as it is in the US and other major space nations, but this proposal is significantly better than what was originally proposed,” Gilmour said. “We look forward to the ASA building up their team strength and for any outsourced costs to fall to zero over time.

“As always, we would be happy to share our team’s knowledge and insights with the ASA as they work to fine-tune the details.”

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