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Interview with Mr. Anthony Murfett

APRSAF Secretariat

What has changed since the space agency was established?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

The Australian Space Agency was established on 1st July, 2018.
The purpose of the Agency is to grow and transform a globally respected Australian space industry that lifts the broader economy and inspires and improves the lives of Australians – underpinned by strong international and national engagement.

Currently, the space sector in Australia is worth about $3.9 billion and employs about 10,000 people. The Agency has an ambitious plan to triple the size of the local space sector, adding another $12 billion annually to the economy by 2030, and creating up to 20,000 new jobs.

As we get up and running, I think three things are really important. Firstly, we need to coordinate our activities across Australia to show the scale and focus of our space industry.

Secondly, we need to coordinate our activities internationally – by providing one voice, one door for our international counterparts. This element was one of the key reasons why Australia established the Australian Space Agency. Australia has been involved in space for over 50 years, with agencies such as CSIRO working with NASA, not to mention our long collaboration with Japan (for example with Hayabusa). With the establishment of the Agency, we can draw on this heritage, work closely with our partners across Australia and also provide pathways for the sector to engage internationally.

Thirdly, we are witnessing a rapid transformation of the sector including the miniaturization of technology, the lower cost of launch and much shorter innovation cycles. This means that business, small, medium and large can now make significant contributions to the space sector. And importantly, when this is combined with the ability of space technologies to improve other sectors of the economy (for example agriculture through improved satellite imaging) we have enormous potential in front of us.

Excitingly, the Australian community is extremely enthusiastic about having a space agency. For example, through media, we have had a cumulative reach of over 48 million Australians in our first 6 months.

APRSAF Secretariat

Are there any scheduled Space Activity programs?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

We have identified several priorities where Australia has a competitive advantage. These areas are based on the work of the Expert Review Committee that undertook a review of Australia’s space industry capabilities that informed the establishment of the Agency. These include:

Communications Technologies and Services

Australia’s geographic location and size makes us an attractive location for ground stations, providing communications for a full range of space systems from CubeSat constellations in Low Earth Orbit to deep space communications of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Debris Monitoring

The growth in the use of space, particularly Low Earth Orbit, has increased the importance of maintaining an awareness of objects circling Earth. Australia’s southern hemisphere location, the expanse of Australian land and low light contamination make this an ideal location for space debris tracking and monitoring.

Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Infrastructure

PNT systems are critical for the Australian economy and our everyday lives. They are used by individuals on their smart phones, farmers reducing cost and waste, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service landing in remote areas, through to improving safety on construction and mining sites.

The government is investing $224.9 million (AUD) through Geoscience Australia to make reliable positioning data accurate to 10 centimetres available across every corner of Australia, our marine jurisdiction and our airspace. Areas with mobile coverage will have access to precise positioning data accurate to three centimetres.

Earth Observation (EO) Services

Earth Observation from space has an untapped potential to grow Australia’s economy through applications such as improved infrastructure and agriculture monitoring, water management, rapid natural disaster identification, monitoring shipping routes and minerals detection. Australia has a competitive advantage in understanding end-user needs, as well as in calibration and application of satellite data. We are now ready to export our capability in data analytics and integrating different data sets so they are useful for decision-making. In addition, Australia’s large geographic scale is particularly well suited to deployment of networks of sensors, connecting our territory through the Internet of Things.

In support of this area, the Australian Government has provided $36.9 million (AUD) over the next four years to fund Geoscience Australia’s extension of Digital Earth Australia (DEA). DEA gives everyone, from government organisations to business, town planers to farmers, free access to 30 years of satellite imagery of the Australian continent.

Space to Earth, and Earth to Space

Australia is a world leader in remote asset management in industries including mining, oil and gas, transport, agriculture and fisheries. In places like the Pilbara and North West Shelf in Western Australia, work is managed from thousands of kilometres away in Perth. Australian companies, universities and research agencies are developing some of the world’s best robotics technology and systems for remote operations and exploration. This is an area where we can leverage Australia’s cutting-edge technology and expertise into space applications, providing new customers for existing industries and developing innovative technology that can be used both in space and on Earth.

Research and Development, including leapfrog technologies

Through areas such as astronomy, optical research, quantum technologies and data science Australia has a strong research base in space. We will continue to highlight Australia’s fields of excellence and our world-class university system, and identify areas to develop technology and applications in emerging fields. This will include opportunities both in early stage R&D and in technologies that are closer to commercialisation.

Australia also has capability in a wide range of areas relevant to space, which could provide new customers for our industries. For example, precision health and remote medicine expertise can be applied to astronauts and space tourists, while experience with manufacturing, 3D printing and high-tech materials is relevant to manufacturing in space. Other areas include artificial intelligence and new rocket technologies. As it becomes more accessible, space simply becomes another place to operate and opportunities around these areas will grow.

We will also encourage research projects that inspire the public and encourage young people into STEM careers.

We are also developing a program to support international activities, called the International Space Initiative. This will commence in the 2019-20 financial year.

APRSAF Secretariat

Do you have plans to launch an Australian satellite in the future?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

There are currently a number of businesses which see opportunities in developing launch capabilities in Australia. These businesses will need to determine the commercial viability of such activities. The role of the Agency will focus on the regulatory requirements. For example, the Agency provides advice on Australia’s regulatory framework for space activities, including under the Space Activities Act 1998. We will continue to work closely with businesses considering launch activities as they develop this capability.

APRSAF Secretariat

What do you use satellite data for?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

Satellite data is useful for Earth Observation, which has an untapped potential to grow Australia’s economy through applications such as improved infrastructure and agriculture monitoring, water management, rapid natural disaster identification, monitoring shipping routes and minerals detection. Australia has a competitive advantage in understanding end-user needs, as well as in calibration and application of satellite data. We are now ready to export our capability in data analytics and integrating different data sets so they are useful for decision-making. In addition, Australia’s large geographic scale is particularly well suited for deployment of networks of sensors and connecting our territory through the Internet of Things.

The DEA platform mentioned earlier provides accessible satellite data to all Australians. Satellite data will be an important platform for the future of the Australian space industry.

APRSAF Secretariat

We have 4 working groups; Satellite Applications, Satellite Technology, Space Environment Utilization and Space Education.
Which working group are you interested in?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

We have an interest in all the working groups. The first three groups are relevant to some of the great capabilities we’ve developed in Australia, from the Digital Earth Australia platform through to the development of our Satellite Based Augmentation System. These groups are also aligned with our priority areas, which we’ve identified above.

Space Education is also extremely important as it is closely linked to our purpose to inspire the Australian community. It is through space education that we can reach our children and inspire them to consider a STEM career.

Importantly, while the Agency is new, we’ve had colleagues from Australian organisations involved in space activities, including CSIRO and Geoscience Australia in attendance at APRSAF for many years. We will work closely with them as we lift our engagement in APRSAF.

APRSAF Secretariat

What do you expect from APRSAF or do you have any certain requests?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

APRSAF is a very important forum to engage with space agencies and other counterparts in the region. As we consider increasing our participation, we will look for opportunities that are closely aligned to our priority areas. We also look forward to sharing lessons and discussing how we can use space technologies to support the region.

There are two areas we would like to explore further in APRSAF. Firstly, to build on the space policy discussions that have recently commenced. This is a valuable opportunity to share lessons and solve common policy challenges. Secondly, we would see value in increasing the consideration of the commercial space sector and involvement of industry, and how governments and industry can work together to lift the use of space technologies to support the region.

APRSAF Secretariat

Are there many private companies in Australia that develop space technology?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

We have around 300 companies operating in the private space sector. With the establishment of the Australian Space Agency, we are witnessing real growth in start-up companies exploring opportunities in space. For example, we have companies that are building CubeSats that are being used to help remote areas of Australia. There are other companies using CubeSats to test sensors and develop new forms of communications that will benefit the Australian economy. Other companies are working on areas such as new rocket technologies and supporting space situational awareness, among many other exciting areas. We look forward to working with our businesses as they explore new opportunities in the space sector.

APRSAF Secretariat

Are there any space policies in Australia?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

The Agency was established with the purpose to grow and transform a globally respected space industry that grows the broader economy and inspires Australians – underpinned by strong national and international engagement.

Prior to our establishment, an Expert Review Group, led by our now Head of the Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC, outlined opportunities to grow Australia’s space industry. In establishing the Agency, the government outlined its response including that the Agency would provide advice to government on an investment strategy that will grow the sector. We’re currently preparing that advice. Our goal is to triple the size of the space sector to $12 billion (AUD) and create up to another 20,000 jobs by 2030.

APRSAF Secretariat

Have you created space policies?

Mr. Anthony Murfett

The Australian Space Agency, as outlined in our Charter, is the primary Agency responsible for providing advice to the government on space strategy and policy. As outlined previously, we’re currently preparing advice to the government on how Australia can grow its space industry capability.

We will work closely with other agencies involved in space activities in Australia, as we prepare advice on strategy and policy.

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