Astronaut Andy Thomas has added his voice to those calling for an Australian Space Agency.
The astronaut, who retired from his two-decade career with NASA in 2014, feels that his home state of South Australia would be the ideal place to establish a "stragetic investment" in the space industry.
Without such an agency, Thomas argues Australia will be “doomed” to rely on other nations for space-related services, including those important to security and defence.
The South Australian Government agrees with his message, and is lobbying for the formation of a national space agency with its “operational” base in Adelaide.
The Australian Space Industry Association has produced a white paper arguing that a national agency should be central to Australia's future strategies in the global space industry, which is currently worth $350 billion.
Thomas has written to Pyne in a letter, re-published on the ASIA website, that it is “staggering” that Australia only accesses less than 1 per cent of the fast-growing global industry.
“We are missing out on a rich opportunity for innovation, employment and accessing potential export markets,” he tells Pyne.
He says the industry is being transformed, with launch services being provided by private companies like SpaceX, and electronic miniaturisation “shaking up the conventional business model”.
“Satellite providers are no longer constrained by the multi-billion dollar investments of the past. Now useful satellite data can be obtained on a device that costs less than a million dollars.”
Thomas believes these developments create an opportunity for Australia to make strategic investments in the “transformative” industry, which could lead to thousands of high-tech blue collar and white collar jobs, including in South Australia.
“And I am unashamedly pro South Australia in this since it meshes and overlaps so well with local defense industries, especially undertakings such as the submarine build,” he writes.
However, he argues the key to making Australia a player in the space industry is a national agency to lead the formation of partnerships with other countries who are active in space.
“We need to play in their arena in terms those countries understand and that means having a recognized national space agency.
“We cannot be a serious player in this international field if our representatives are buried in some obscure government policy unit or some obscure arm of a national lab. We need a national agency that speaks for the country and with ministerial authority. Without that Australia is doomed to be forever dependent on other nations for its space-related security, its space-related economy, its space-related defense and its space-related environmental assessments.
State Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said he wanted leadership from the Federal Government to make the most of Australia’s opportunities in the multi-billion-dollar space industry.
“We need some leadership from Canberra – until we get that we can’t progress,” Hamilton-Smith said.
“I am pushing federal ministers to pick up the ball and run with it.”