SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia was the third nation after the United States and the USSR to build and launch a satellite from its own rocket range. But after the Weapons Research Establishment Satellite (WRESAT) took to the skies on 29 November 1967, the country’s space efforts dwindled. Australia’s last microsatellite—launched from a Japanese facility—died in 2007. Along with Iceland, Australia was one of only two Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations without a space agency.
But that’s about to change. The government announced today at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, that it will establish a national space agency.
The decision caps a yearlong campaign to boost Australia’s space efforts, led by groups from universities, industry, and government bodies. “The creation of an Australian space agency is very exciting news,” says Michael Brown, a Melbourne, Australia–based Monash University astronomer.
“The establishment of an Australian Space Agency is a strong nod of support for the current space sector in Australia,” says astronomer and astrophysicist Lee Spitler of Macquarie University here. He adds that what is left of the country’s space industry operates as a “grassroots movement across a small number of companies, university groups, and the defense sector.”
Australia depends heavily foreign-built or operated satellites for communications, remote sensing, and astronomical research. Its share of the $330 billion global space economy is only 0.8%.
Despite persistent calls for a national space agency, the current government took no steps until last July, when Arthur Sinodinos, the federal minister for industry, innovation and science, set up an expert review group to study the country’s space industry capabilities. To date, the group has received nearly 200 written submissions and held meetings across the country.
Facing calls for action last week from the participants at the Adelaide meeting, Acting Industry Minister Michaelia Cash announced that the working group will develop a charter for the space agency that will be included in a wider space industry strategy.
It is about time, says astronomer Alan Duffy at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne: “These announcements come at a special anniversary. It’s 50 years since the launch of WRESAT.”