Australia announced on Monday that it will finally establish its own space agency, joining the ranks of other developed nations in competing for influence in outer space.
Western Australian Sen. Michaelia Cash, who serves as the acting minister of industry, innovation, and science for Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal Party government, said on Monday that the government will create a dedicated national space agency that will make Australia part of the rapidly growing sector in space. Cash announced the news prior to attending the International Astronomical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.
“A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic, long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry,” Cash said.
Australia has been one of the few developed countries in the world without a dedicated space agency funded by the government. In the increasingly contested Asia-Pacific region, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia all have their own space agencies and have received various levels of funding and support from their respective national governments. Australia’s much smaller neighbor New Zealand also launched its own space agency in 2016.
Australia has not had a space agency before, but the country’s private space industry is estimated to be worth as much as AU$4 billion per year (US$3.18 billion), according to The Canberra Times. It currently employs about 11,500 workers.
The creation of a dedicated space agency has received bipartisan support, with Australia’s opposition Labor Party also expressing support for the program. The new agency could create thousands of new jobs in Australia, said Labor Party science and research spokesman Kim Carr.
The Australian government has not announced where the agency will be based, but South Australian Sen. Simon Birmingham says his state will benefit, given its “unique geography.”
Being situated in the Southern Hemisphere under Asia gives Australia an advantage, making it an ideal location for relaying information from space to the major space powers in the Northern Hemisphere. Photos of the historic Apollo 11 moonwalk in 1969, for example, were first received by stations in Australia and then relayed to NASA in the United States.