Tasmania’s imperative role in the Space Race


If one day NASA finds extra-terrestrial life on one of Jupiter’s icy moons, Tasmanians can claim their part in the discovery.

A NASA team is travelling with the Australian Antarctic Program to test an under-ice robot, with the results of the study to be used to better understand Jupiter and investigate Europa, one of the planet’s more than 60 moons.

This robot testing will be one of two NASA projects the organisation is planning to run with the Australian Antarctic Division, based in Hobart, through this summer’s Australian Antarctic Program. Tests have already been conducted in the Arctic and Alaska, but this will be the first Antarctic trial.

The Australian Antarctic Division has been working with NASA since 1993, using the Australian Antarctic base as a space analogue to train astronauts, and collaborate on human research and operational medicine.

Our medical knowledge of humans living and working in remote settings, including work on space life sciences and space analogues, has been furthered through the Centre for Antarctic, Remote and Maritime Medicine partnership between the Australian Antarctic Division, the Australian and Tasmanian Governments and the University of Tasmania.

Tasmania’s standing as a significant player in Australia’s space sector was formalised in September, when the Tasmanian Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Space Agency. It’s an important, and very exciting, development for my home state, cementing Tasmania’s role in growing the space sector.

This MoU builds awareness of the geographical advantages of Tasmania for the space industry and the specialist capabilities the state brings to space science and remote medicine pioneered by the Australian Antarctic Division.

It establishes a framework for Tasmanian businesses and research institutions to get involved this booming industry, giving Tasmanians the opportunity to participate in international space projects and develop space industry skills.

It also will be a powerful and positive motivator for school students deciding on future career courses in science and technology.

When the MoU was signed in September, Tasmania’s Minister for Science and Technology Michael Ferguson urged the state’s students to study science because there would be job opportunities in Australia’s growing space industry.

“Tasmania's investment in new hypobaric facilities, growth of our advanced manufacturing skills base, our radio telescope network and our Antarctic gateway put Tasmania in a strong position,” Mr Ferguson said at the time.

Of course Tasmania is not the only state getting access to these opportunities. The Morrison Government is also working with other states and territories, such as South Australia, Western Australia, the ACT, and New South Wales, on their involvement in the space sector.

This all links in with the $150 million that Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Government is investing in Australia’s space capabilities, so our businesses can be part of the supply chain for NASA’s Moon to Mars Mission, which will see us return to the Moon in 2024 followed by the first human visit to Mars.

It could be agreed that the Moon and Mars qualify as remote settings, but astronauts travelling to both locations will need access to medical information and expertise and this is where the Australian Antarctic Division’s experience comes in.

These are exciting and historic projects and we all know the beneficial scientific and technological advances these Space missions produce.

Other examples of Tasmania’s close relationship with the Australian Space Agency are the Space Infrastructure Fund, Global Navigation Satellite System and the Integrated Marine Observing System.

The Federal Space Infrastructure Fund will see Tasmania’s space tracking facilities upgraded to support commercial orbit and de-orbit tracking. This is a $1.2 million investment, which is supported by the MoU, and starts this year to upgrade existing infrastructure to commercial standard to allow for precision tracking of satellites and spacecraft.

Additionally, Geoscience Australia’s investment in Tasmania includes $9 million over the forward estimates for Global Navigation Satellite System ground station infrastructure, and $1.2 million over forward estimates for the National Geodetic Radio Astronomy Facility.

The Integrated Marine Observing System’s Satellite Altimetry Facility, which is operated by the University of Tasmania, is the only calibration facility in the Southern Hemisphere used for assessment of the US/ESA satellite sea level missions over the past two decades.

This strong position includes Tasmania’s internationally regarded radio telescope network and world-leading research facilities in Antarctic and marine sciences.

It is worth noting that the Australian space sector is worth around $4 billion dollars and employs around 10,000 people. The Morrison Government’s goal is to support and fund initiatives that can triple that to $12 billion - and add an extra 20,000 jobs - by 2030.

These jobs will be right across the space industry supply chain, from data analysts, to tradespeople to help manufacture and maintain equipment, through to rocket scientists.

Tasmania is now positioned to be part of these exciting new opportunities.