Can I start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Can I acknowledge, Paul Scully-Power.

Paul orbited the Earth in 1984, when I was finishing school. When Jim Whalley, who I went to school with had literally-  he finished the year before me. And that year, Paul orbited the earth 133 times over eight and a half days, and it really is- it leant something, Paul- to have you associated with this body today and very much to have you here. So it is great to see you here.

Humanity has been looking to the heavens from the Australian continent for millennia.

As people understand and as it’s recognised in the Australian Space Agency’s logo, Indigenous Australians were sophisticated astronomers, they wove their storylines into their understanding of the phases of the moon.

They saw stars depicting emus in differing positions throughout the year in a regular way, which gave them a hint as to when to collect emu eggs.

When Captain James Cook set sail for the Southern Pacific, in the journey, which took in Botany Bay in 1770, part of that expedition was funded by the Royal Society to witness the transit of Venus from the South Pacific.

So, from the very beginning, we’ve had a connection with space.

And is it any wonder?

When you go to the Outback, in an area where there is little light pollution, an absolute highlight is to see the wonder of the southern sky.

It is very much a part of what defines us as a people who live on this continent, we see it on our own flag.

In modern times, in the twentieth century, Australia’s connection with space really begins at Woomera. In 1946, United Kingdom and Australia entered the Anglo Australian joint project.

In 1957, the European Launcher Development Organisation, ELDO, chose Woomera as the base for its launches.

In 1957 as well, the US established the Minitrack station which formed part of its efforts in space.

ELDO did 10 launches at Woomera.

The British Skylark sounding rocket program, which began in 1957 did a multitude of launches from Woomera.

And on the 28th of October in 1971, the British Black Arrow Rocket was the first British made rocket which had on board a British built satellite, which successfully deployed a satellite into space.

At its peak, Woomera was second only to Cape Canaveral in terms of the launches that were occurring around the world. Hundreds of launches occurred there throughout its life and the Anglo Australian joint project continued right through until 1980.

Perhaps the more celebrated connection with space was the partnership that we have with United States and with NASA.

After establishing the Minitrack station in 1957, a year later, the Baker-Nunn telescope tracking camera observatory was also established at Woomera and from there we saw a number of tracking stations built around the Australian continent.

Muchea in 1960, Carnarvon in 1963, Orroral Valley in 1965, Cooby Creek in 1966.

The most famous connection of course is with the Apollo program; the Parkes radio telescope, which has been made famous in part by the movie ‘The Dish’, was established in 1961.

Tidbinbilla in the southern part of the ACT, which to this day forms part of one of three tracking stations, which are NASA’s Deep Space Network, it was established in 1965.

And Honeysuckle Creek, which took the very first images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon was established in 1967.

All of which meant that by 1969, the network of tracking stations for NASA in Australia was the largest in the world outside of the United States.

And they played a part in all three of NASA’s missions-  the Deep Space Network, the Manned Space Flight network, and the Space Tracking and Data Acquisition Network.

Today, for me I think, the modern expression of our enterprises in astronomy is in the Square Kilometre Array telescope headquartered in Manchester. Its physical location is in the Karoo in South Africa, and the Boolardy Station in Murchison in Western Australia, where an array of 130,000 low frequency antenna are being built right now, which by the end of this decade, will enable us to see to the very origins of the universe.

And the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, which is an array of 36 dishes is already in place, and we are deriving really valuable lessons from its operation as to how the SKA-proper will work.

A run through that history of Australia’s connection with space from the very earliest moments of space exploitation and exploration, to highlight our lineage in space, our connection with it. The fact that people have been coming from around the world to use Australia as a base to engage in space from day one.

And what that has meant is that we have built considerable skills in this country.

It’s a part of our expertise, it really is.

And that expertise exists right now.

On the 21st of July 1969, when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, 100% of humanity’s activities in space, were driven by government.

And as I’ve described, we were significant players in that.

All of our efforts in what I’ve described were paid for out of the public purse.

But today, humanity’s engagement in space is obviously very different.

About 80 per cent of humanity’s engagement in space is undertaken by private companies, for commercial reasons.

Only 20 per cent is now done by government. SpaceX, a very famous company, has launched 780 satellites just this year, it’s valued at over $100 billion.

The size of the global space industry has been estimated by the OECD in 2019 to be $277 billion. The Space Foundation puts it at a bigger number – $447 billion in 2020.

But whichever way you cut it, Australia’s share of that, as it’s been estimated by the Australian Space Agency, is $4.6 billion – about 1-1.5 per cent of the global effort.

And that supports 11,500 jobs.

But given the history that we have had in government-led space exploration and space exploitation, I would contend that this really, at this moment in time, is a small contribution to a moment where we’re actually seeing space as a place where money is being made, where jobs are being created, where industry is being undertaken.

So for all the investment that we’ve done in the past, are we reaping the rewards when the opportunities are there in an industry sense, in an economic sense right now?

And space is only predicted to grow in terms of its industry. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley both estimate that the value of the space industry into the 2040s will be more than a trillion dollars.

The Bank of America thinks it’s going to be more like $3 trillion.

So then you look at what our footprint is: the Australian Space Agency first appears in the 2018-19 Budget with a budget of $26 million over the forward estimates.

What that meant, for example, was that in 2019-20, in that financial year, it had a budget of $6.7 million and employed 23 staff.

That’s where we’re at.

Now, there are various funds, which are really important – $150 million to help companies engage in NASA’s Moon to Mars program, and the Minister announced a further allocation of that money today.

The Space Infrastructure Fund, for example, which provides for the better part of $20 million.

But again, I would contend that, given our history, given our skills, given our legacy, and given the tremendous opportunity that space represents going forward, we need to be doing more.

Government needs to make the decision that this is going to be an industry we will be a part of as a nation. Because we have the skills. We have the location.

We have incredible natural assets. This genuinely can be a national strength, and we really can be one of the leading players in the world if we make the decision to do this.

So Adam and James Gilmour run Gilmour Space, and would be familiar to a number of you, a company based on the Gold Coast.

They want to be part of the launch business of putting rockets up there, putting payloads into orbit.

They did their first test in 2016 in Westmar, in western Queensland.

At that point they employed 10 people, next year they hope to employ 200.

They’ve work with Northrop, they have in their supply chain Marand, Graphite Australia. They are doing research work with Griffith University.

Next year their Eris orbital rocket will put a payload of 305 kilos, they hope, into orbit. It’s amazing.

By 2025, they hope to be able to put four tonnes into low Earth orbit, and a payload of a tonne into geostationary orbit, potentially even into lunar orbit.

They’re ambitious.

When you speak to these guys, it is impossible not to be infected by their enthusiasm, it’s great.

And in fact, their ambition and their company really does speak to our history in space.

This is something we do.

They’re part of a great legacy and part of a great lineage.

Their ambition also speaks to the really exciting opportunities that space represents for the Australian economy, for jobs and for science in this country.

But they need to know that they have a government which is making the decision to support what they are doing.

As we come out of the pandemic, one of the great lessons that we’ve got to learn from the pandemic – which in so many ways has been a report card on Australian society, a lot of which has been fantastic; our sense of community, the way in which we celebrate people, what we mightn’t have noticed before. Those who work in aged care, those who work in supermarkets, those who drive trucks, they’ve been so important in keeping us going throughout the pandemic – but there are really critical lessons that we need to learn as well.

And one of those is we as a nation must climb the technological ladder.

The gap between us and the cutting edge of modernity is growing larger.

We need to close that gap.

Now we do science well.

But we commercialise science about as badly as any country in the OECD, that’s the truth of it.

That’s what we absolutely have to change.

In fact, I would say if there is one critical piece of micro-economic reform which faces this country today it is the challenge of turning science into jobs.

But that’s what we’ve got to do.

We’ve got to learn how we turn science into jobs.

Now a country of our size, we can’t do everything, we acknowledge that.

But we really do need to be thinking about those areas where we can reasonably expect to lead the world, or if not lead the world be in the top handful of countries in the world, when it comes to science and technology and make a decision to do it.

When you look at our history in space, when you look at our natural assets, when you look at the infrastructure which exists here right now.

And when you look at the skills that have been developed over decades in our science and our industrial community, well the space industry is absolutely one of those areas.

It is an area that if we make a decision to do, it can help us climb the technological ladder.

So I’ll finish by saying this, the Australian Space Agency is a really, really critical first step.

And it’s really important that it’s been established with a view to connecting government and industry, that’s exactly the right DNA which should be in place from the outset.

But we need to take a much bigger step than that going forward if Australia is going to fulfil its destiny as a country which is leading the world in terms of our space industry.

Thanks for having me.


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