Half of this page is a direct copy of the excellent “Highlights of Australia’s Space History” document that was published on the previous space.gov.au webpage before it was absorbed and became the cybersecurity and civil space coordination office under the then Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and from an ANU thesis that was sponsored by CSIRO and the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group. The more recent half and interspersed narratives are from my personal interactions over the last 20 years.
The obstacles to increased Australian involvement in space activities are not technical, as the country’s strong history in diverse space-related activities shows.
Over past decades, the nation has achieved in almost every area of space endeavour, but without a national cohesion it had been difficult to take full advantage of these successes.
When space involvement was near the top of the political, and hence funding priority list, there were great advantages in being seen as part of a national space program. Unfortunately, when priorities changed, everything to do with “space” tended to be perceived as being scandalously expensive and those with vested interested in Australia never having any native capability have lobbied strongly in the background to keep it this way. Starting July 2018 there is finally an Australian federal space agency with a mandate, authority, 5+ year budget and technical competence that also has sufficient international bilateral agreements/memberships and bipartisan support to make it election proof and therefore sustainable. Briefly, initiatives like the space office during the 1980s and the ASRP in the 2000s came close however neither were robust enough to withstand a change of government at the next election.
The greater challenge is to take full advantage of Australia’s technical successes by prioritising areas of activity which deliver the most benefits, employment and economic savings to Australia. These areas include position, navigation and timing, Earth observations, and satellite communications. That was the role of Australia’s Satellite Utilisation Policy and is now covered under the Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028.
It is impossible to capture all of Australia’s space history in a single list. Comments and additions are welcome. We have edited the original sources heavily to update changes in recent years and to include more of the colourful history and context that would not have been politically correct to include in a Government website. Many thanks to extensive firsthand comments provided by a key Australian space individual which were used for a major revision in 2016.
It’s a long slog to read through, then again it is a solid 80+ years! We hope that you can read this and understand the context of what happened in the past and why Australia is how it is with regards to space. Equipped with this knowledge and reference material, you never have to ask the question of why, rather can learn from the past, see all the factions and unite to forge a bright Australian space future.
In 1947, the Woomera Rocket Range was established in South Australia as a base for United Kingdom (UK). Britain’s motivation for establishing the Woomera Prohibited Area was spurred by Germany’s V1/V2 rocket-based weapons from the Second World War. (V1/V2 were part of an evolutionary process extending back to China, including the Congreve rocket used successfully during an 1807 attack against Copenhagen. However, the new German weapons led to an international race to acquire this strategic technology.) The facility would become the second largest launch and tracking facility in the West.
A significant body of credible information and data regarding the establishment of and activities at Woomera is available from, P Morton, Fire across the desert Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Project 1946 – 1980, AGPS Press, Canberra, 1989 (reprinted 1997).
Woomera was largely used to test UK warheads and delivery mechanisms (sub-orbital rockets), but in 1957, Woomera was the launch site for the first Australian built sounding rocket, the Long Tom. The rocket was used to assist the development of instrumentation at Woomera in preparation for the launch of ballistic research vehicles, and later used to study the upper atmosphere.
1957 activities were greatly accelerated by the 1st October launch of Sputnik by the USSR and in that same year the US conducted the first known test of an anti-satellite weapon.
Australia was one of 18 countries that became the first members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) in 1958. UN COPUOS was established to review international cooperation and devise programs to support peaceful uses of outer space, to encourage research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising for the exploration of outer space. Australia still continues as an active member to this day, chairing one of the Committee’s Expert Groups.
In 1960 the first full tracking station built outside the US for the then Deep Space Instrumentation Facility (DSIF), later to become the Deep Space Network (DSN), was built at Island Lagoon near Woomera and then designated as DSIF-41, later DSS-41. The station supported Ranger, Mariner and early Atlas-Centaur missions using US military L-Band and later Mariner and Pioneer missions using S-Band.This location offered at least three advantages. First, it was located in a country which had considerable technical competence in its own right, and where English was the spoken language. Second, this location met the general requirement of being approximately 120 deg in latitude from Goldstone and was in the southern hemisphere at a latitude of less than 35 deg. Finally, the site was one that had been used by the British and Australians for testing missiles, and a Minitrack station had been placed there in late 1957, during the International Geophysical Year. The facility was retired in 1972.
In 1962 a small facility was established at Muchea in Western Australia to support Lt. Col. John Glenn in the Mercury Friendship 7, and was also supported by a small facility at Woomera. Muchea continued through 1963 with a series of other Mercury flights.
The Parkes Radio Telescope Observatory was established in New South Wales in 1961. The telescope is a 64-metre movable dish, and is the second largest in the southern hemisphere. An icon of Australian science, it would capture a significant part of the Apollo 11 Moonlanding in 1969. Parkes is still one of the world’s leading telescopes and was the object of popular 2000 film The Dish.
Australia chaired some of the most important United Nations forums on space from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. From 1962 to 1995, Australia was the Chair of the UNCOPUOS Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee.
By 1962, NASA plans had been accomplished to expand the DSN to provide another 26-m-diameter antenna in Australia. In keeping with NASA policy of colocating facilities wherever possible, the site was to be large enough to include three to four additional antennas to support the DSN, the Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN), and the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN). The site occupied by the minitrack station and the Deep Space Station at Woomera, Australia, was considered unsuitable because of the difficulty of obtaining staff and the expense of operating at a location that was remote from any major city, In August 1962, after a survey of possible locations, Canberra, Australia, was selected, principally because it was in a relatively noise-free area. Canberra was the federal capital of Australia and was expected to be a city of over 100,000 in a few years. In addition, since the government had set aside nearly 2590 square kilometers (1000 square miles) as federal land, the maintenance of a noise-free area would be relatively easy. The city of Canberra is at an average altitude of about 579 meters (1900 feet) and is encircled by a mountain range which extends to the southwest for some 160 kilometers. By January 1963, a specific suitable site was found 16km southwest of the city of Canberra, in a location known as Tidbinbilla.
Australia was a founding member of INTELSAT, the International Satellite Telecommunications Organisation, in 1964. INTELSAT’s satellites were integral to global communications during the second half of the 20th century.
The Carnarvon Tracking Station, in Western Australia, was opened in 1964 to act as the prime antenna for the Gemini program. Some equipment originally used at Muchea was relocated to Carnarvon. After the Gemini program completed the facility supported the early Apollo program. It closed in 1975 however has remained open to the public as an excellent science and technology museum.
European (European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO)) launch activities started at Woomera in 1964. (ELDO and ESRO were both convened in 1964 and later combined to become the European Space Agency in 1973)
Also in 1964, Australia in partnership with the United States established the Tidbinbilla tracking station, which formed part of a world-wide network to support the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). On March 19, 1965, the Tidbinbilla station was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Australia.
1964 also saw the establishment of the Orroral Valley Space Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN) tracking station, initially to support the Apollo program, along with Honeysuckle Creek and Tidbinbilla. As the station work grew the Minitrack at Island Lagoon along with the Baker Nunn tracking camera were all relocated to Orroral Valley.
The mid-1960’s marked the start of Australia’s pursuit of civilian uses of space. Over the following decades, Australian government agencies, research organisations, and industry would go on to increasingly rely on satellites for information such as Earth observations, position, navigation and timing data and satellite communications to conduct everyday business.
A sixth antenna at Cooby Creek, near Toowoomba in Queensland was agreed and opened in 1966 to support the Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) Project. This facility supported the Gemini and early Apollo test flights and the facility also supported the first video satellite direct broadcasts from Japan to Australia. The station closed in 1970.
Australia ratified the 1966 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies. Commonly known as the “Outer Space Treaty” it establishes important international principles for the behaviour of nations in space and entered into force in October 1967. The Australian-built Weapons Research Establishment Satellite (WRESAT) was successfully launched into orbit from Woomera in 1967 on board a modified US Sparta LV rocket. This made Australia the seventh country to launch a satellite. Interestingly, it also made Australia the third country, after the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to launch a satellite to orbit from its own territory.
This was the first and only Australian satellite launched from Australian territory.
Australia ratified the 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Australia is a signatory to all five of the key treaties and other international instruments which govern human activities in space (UNOOSA official list of all Treaties (opens PDF)). NB: that being a ‘signatory’ to a treaty level document does not necessarily imply a formal national commitment to it.
|Treaty-level Arrangement||Year of Entry into Force||Australia’s Method of Adoption|
|Outer Space Treaty||1967||Ratified|
In 1969, the Parkes observatory, together with a now decommissioned facility at Honeysuckle Creek, was used to receive live, televised images of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The first 10 minutes of the lunar extra vehicular activity (EVA) including the now famous “One small step…..” came through the Honeysuckle Creek antenna designated DSS-44. Once the Moon rose sufficiently, the signal was swapped to Parkes for the remainder of the EVA. The signals received by Honeysuckle Creek allowed one fifth of the world’s population at the time, six hundred million people, to watch Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon.
A Heliosphere was established at Narrabri to monitor the Sun for extreme solar activities that could be harmful to astronauts in space, particularly on the lunar surface.
In the late 1960s the CSIRO Division of Land Use Research was starting to test and use a system developed in-house that used colour aerial photographs for land use capability mapping. Unlike the geologists, the land use researchers needed colour images, making this system costly and time-consuming. This breadth and depth of expertise and experience set the stage for Australia to take full advantage of data from satellite-based systems.
Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar (JDFN), located near Woomera, was opened and operated jointly by the Australian Department of Defence and the United States Air Force from 1969 through 1999, by which time operations were fully relocated to the Joint Defence Facility in Pine Gap, NT, where it continues to this day. . Its official area of emphasis is space-based surveillance, in particular the early detection of missile launches and nuclear detonations using US Defense Support Program satellites in geostationary orbits.
US Military (CIA, NSA and US NRO) Operations started at Pine Gap in 1970 when about 400 American families moved to Northern Territory with two antennas to start the ground control and processing station for geosynchronous satellites engaged in signals intelligence collection. By 1999 this had grown to 18 antennas and 1,000 staff and continues to operate. The exact number of antennas, staff and details of operations are of course unknown for security reasons and concealed by protective domes.
University of Melbourne’s OSCAR 5 satellite, built by students in 1966 and sent to the US Air Force in 1967, was launched by NASA in 1970. This was Australia’s first completed satellite and second to be launched.
Honeysuckle Creek continued to support the remaining Apollo flights to the Moon until the lunar program finished in December 1972. The missions included the ill-fated Apollo-13 mission as well as Apollo-14, Apollo-15, Apollo-16 and Apollo-17.
October 1971 saw the UK’s first and only satellite launch, aboard the Black Arrow LV from Woomera, South Australia. This was the last launch of a satellite to space from Australia.
In the early 1970’s the UK space program declined, the ELDO launch capability was transferred to French Guiana, and the Woomera facility fell into disuse. For Australia, this meant that much of the scientific and engineering experience gained over nearly twenty years was dispersed.
NASA issued a worldwide Statement of Opportunity to potential experimenters and users of data from two planned earth-observing satellites. (originally ERTS-1 and 2 but renamed Landsat in 1975) Very few people in Australia at that time had any direct experiences with satellites or satellite data. Some, particularly those using sophisticated aircraft-based remote sensing techniques, had serious doubts about the potential value of the satellite images and lobbied against the whole concept.
As the United States’ tracking stations were rationalised across Australia, the Tidbinbilla site became critical for initial acquisition of all launch vehicles from Cape Canaveral as the first downrange ground station.
In 1972 Tidbinbilla supported the launch of the Pioneer-10 and 11 missions destined for Jupiter and beyond. Both missions were successful and in fact a manoeuvre with Pioneer-11 as it passed Jupiter allowed the spacecraft to be targeted to fly past Saturn. These were the first missions to visit the outer planets and fly through the then unchartered Asteroid Belt.
Concurrent to supporting NASA humanspaceflight missions was the national scepticism that satellites were of any use for Australia back on Earth. Thankfully there were enough people who could see potential in this new technology to come up with and send to NASA a total of 53 Australian research proposals relating to the use of Landsat images.
Initially Australia was cautious about accepting some of NASA’s conditions for the supply of satellite images. The Department of Supply in particular was very concerned about security. The American “open access” policy made it possible for the images to be widely distributed around the world. Eventually the conflict was resolved and in mid-1972 the Australian Committee for Earth Resources Technology Satellite or ACERTS was set up as the umbrella group for the Australian PIs. Interest in the satellite data was continually growing and in late 1971 the CSIRO Division of Mineral Physics established a remote sensing group as one of its five programs.
The launch by NASA of Landsat-1 in 1972 and Landsat-2 opened up a new world of data about the surface of the Earth. For the first time, areas of the Australian landscape could be viewed, mapped and analysed without anyone needing to walk, ride, drive or fly over them. Every 18 days the satellite recorded the data and transmitted it to earth. Only one satellite was required for the whole planet and, under the terms of the NASA survey program, all countries were to have access to the data.
Starting from a position of considerable expertise in the use of aircraft-mounted remote sensing equipment, Australia quickly developed into a sophisticated user of images, and later digital data, from satellite systems. The uniquely varied nature of our terrain and vegetation, ranging from tropical rainforest to arid desert, led to a series of innovations in processing and interpretive techniques that were taken up all over the world. Within a few years of joining the world of satellite based remote sensing, Australia was a major user of satellite data and a leading innovator in the application of remote sensing to a wide range of resource management, exploration, and planning applications. Many of the processing and interpretation techniques developed here were eventually exported all over the world.
A briefing was given to the United States Senate in early 1972 by Australia which emphasised the importance of the Landsat program to mining and mineral exploration.
Australia became a party to the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects. This convention provides that countries must provide compensation for damage caused to other countries by their space objects.
The first training courses in remote sensing techniques held in Australia were given at the Australian Mineral Foundation in 1972 and 1973.
DSS-44 supported the follow-on Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 and the three Skylab missions in 1973.
As use of remote sensing images was already very broad nation wide, one of the major problems arose from the unique characteristics of the Australian landscape. NASA used average global brightness and Australia was much brighter than most other countries so many surface details were effectively lost in the glare. The problem with the images arose because the data for outside the US was all processed in the same way before transferring to film, regardless of the underlying characteristics of the landscape. In addition, the only images supplied by NASA were black and white negatives for each spectral band and a standard false colour composite for each scene. Australia set out on a mission to gain the original magnetic tapes of the digital data and process it ourselves. In 1974 CSIRO employees did just that and produced a more optimised set of images than ever seen before in the world. Australian images with their remarkable accuracy became the global benchmark for Earth Observation algorithms.
The Lunar Laser Ranging facility at the Orroral Observatory in the Australian Capital Territory was constructed in 1975. This facility was used to measure distance to Earth orbiting satellites to detect a satellite’s variation from its predicted orbit.
1975 saw the launch and support – including from Tidbinbilla – of the Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, with subsequent successful landings of the two landers on the surface of Mars. The landers and orbiters continued to operate for a number of years.
As mining companies began using satellite data more and more they became increasingly concerned about security. They often asked for far more scenes than just the one they were interested in with the hope of hiding where and what exactly they were looking at. This need for confidentiality also led to the development of image processing facilities at another six mining companies. The two main barriers for processing were the requirement for about $250 000 worth of computer equipment, an enormous sum in 1975, and sufficient expertise to use it. The main organisations involved in image processing were CSIRO, BMR, BHP, the Division of National Mapping and two mining companies, CRA and Western Mining. As the main source of computer tapes at the time was CSIRO Mineral Physics, much of the division’s work was funded by the fees the mining companies paid for the data. Thus CSIRO Mineral Physics became the principal repository for all computer tapes and satellite data in Australia, from Landsat and partially by this time from NOAA.
Alongside all this major activity in the mining sector, there was a small part of the environmental sector who started to also use satellite data in Australia around 1976. Average time to receive raw data from any Australian request to the US was about 12 weeks.
End users were frustrated with the 12 week waiting time on satellite data requests from the US so in the last months of the Whitlam government, the Minister for Science asked the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council (ASTEC) to consider a conceptual proposal to establish Landsat reception facilities in Australia. There was resistance from a significant number of ASTEC members to making such a large investment in what was perceived to be primarily outmoded American military technology. ASTEC recommended against the proposal.
In 1976 the Remote Sensing Association of Australia was formed. CSIRO Mineral Physics proposed a remote sensing research program to Australian mining companies through the Australian Mining Industry Research Association (AMIRA). The program ended up attracting ten companies as sponsors, which, considering the size of the industry, was a very high level of support.
In 1977 about 40 companies set up the industry user committee for remote sensing, INDUSAT. ASTEC were again asked by CSIRO to consider a proposal for establishing Landsat reception facilities in Australia. This time the proposal was vigorously supported by the mining industry, which guaranteed to buy enough data to make the project work financially, and the committee was far more sympathetic to this type of technology. The proposal was accepted and a recommendation forwarded to Cabinet that the Australian Landsat Station (ALS) be built.
The launch of the Voyager-1 and 2 missions in August/September 1977, with a possible grand tour of all the outer planets as a mission option, was successful. Both Voyager spacecraft continue to operate today. The Tidbinbilla tracking station featured significantly in all these encounters and, with some support from Parkes, was able to bring back some amazing images of our gas giant outer planets.
ESA essentially wrapped up all Woomera activity and moved to Kourou. They made Australia an offer of full membership, akin to the one ESA made to the UK (which also had no space agency), so that the successful collaboration could continue. Malcolm Fraser was heavily pressured by American Military and Pine Gap staff and Australia said no.
The Director of Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station was overseas for the NASA Station Directors’ conference in 1977 when he was asked to extend the trip and visit the Goddard Space Flight Centre near Washington D.C. to talk about access fees for Landsat data and then go to the Landsat station in Canada to talk about what was needed to set up a Landsat station in Australia. During the course of this trip he found out that Honeysuckle Creek was to be closed and decommissioned in 1981. When he returned from his trip he “volunteered” to start setting up the Australian Landsat Station. Bit of a win-win. He was a strong engineer and advocate since the 60s and also he would soon need a new job.
A mission to analyse the atmosphere of Venus was successfully launched in 1978, Pioneer-12 and 13. Pioneer-12 was an orbiter and Pioneer-13 essentially a bus to carry four other spacecraft to Venus. At a predetermined time the four probes were released prior to arrival at Venus to land over a large area of Venus. The mission was very successful and Tidbinbilla featured heavily in the encounter activities.
Australia became a party to the 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies, which entered into force in 1984. Not many nations signed this one.
The Moblas 5 Satellite Laser Ranging Observatory in Western Australia became operational in 1979. The observatory played an important role in the Australian and international efforts to precisely measure the Earth.
Australia was a founding member of the satellite telecommunications company INMARSAT in 1979.
Voyager-1 and 2 both encounter Jupiter in detail. The Moon Io was found to have active volcanos – the first outside Earth. Tidbinbilla was pivotal in the encounter due to the alignment of the Solar System at the time.
AUSSAT was created by the Australian Government in 1979 as one of the first national satellite communications systems in the world. AUSSAT delivered satellite television and telephone services.
With the opening of the Australian Landsat Station due in the last quarter of 1979, the advisory committee structure was revised and expanded from just ACERTS, the initial inter-departmental committee that was the NASA PI for Landsat data. ACERTS itself was moved to the Department of Science and then effectively replaced by a new committee, the Commonwealth User Committee on Remote Sensing (CUCRS).
A new committee was formed to be the principal advisory body for remote sensing in Australia, the Australian Liaison Committee on remote sensing by satellite (ALCORSS). Members were comprised of representatives from Government (CUCRS + Commonwealth departments + Australia State Reps + CSIRO), Private Industry via the Chair of INDUSAT and Academia by appointees of the Australian Vice Chancellors’ Committee and the then Australian Committee of Directors and Principals in Advanced Education respectively. Although administrative and support services for ALCORSS were provided by the Commonwealth government through the ALS, members met all their own participation costs.
In 1979 the former Director of Honeysuckle Creek was appointed Director of the new ALS. The cost of establishing the ALS was about $4.5million, of which $600 000 was for the photo lab alone. Finding staff for the two sites was an interesting challenge. The engineering staff were recruited from the tracking stations near Canberra, the Chief Engineer came from Honeysuckle Creek and the Digital Engineer came from Tidbinbilla. The photographic staff were recruited from the Australian Air Force, Navy, the BMR and a holiday photo lab.
The first Australian Remote Sensing conference was held.
A branch of the US L5 group (later merged to become National Space Society and later simply Space Society) was set up in Sydney in 1979. Branches followed in 1984 in Adelaide and 1986 in Brisbane. All of these later turned into the National Space Society of Australia in 1987 and by that time it was just down to Sydney again after some history in 1985.
1979 also saw the first use of satellite data in an Australian court of law in Victoria.
In 1980, Geoscience Australia (then ACRES) began direct download of Earth Observation data from the US satellite Landsat and successive Landsat satellites through the ALS, information from which has been a cornerstone of Australian environmental and land management since 1979. Originally the Landsat data supplied in 1972-1978 by NASA cost US$200 000 per year. When management of the Landsat program was moved from NASA to NOAA in 1979 this was raised to US$600 000 per year. Despite the increase in the cost of data the ALS continued to cover its running costs but could not stretch to covering the depreciation as well.
ALS uncovered a much larger, and hence largely unanticipated demand for Landsat imagery. Within three months of the station opening there was a six month backlog of requests. This lead to an extension of operating hours by the addition of an evening and a midnight shift, and a tripling of the front line staff working on requests and processing photographs. There had to be a full cabinet submission to pay the bills for all the extra work.
Not surprisingly, when the ALS started distributing data, about 60% was used for mining and mineral exploration applications. The rest was mainly agricultural and water management use plus a few amateurs and scientists. And one legal case where SA sued NSW for allegedly issuing too many water permits and overusing the Darling River – ALS images proved this was not true and the case was dropped.
In 1981 the United States Government repealed data sharing agreements in favour of commercialisation.
Australia’s national satellite system was commissioned by the Australian Government in 1981 when it formed AUSSAT to launch and operate a fleet of satellites.
Digital Communications Group (DCG) commenced research in the early 1980s within the School of Electronic Engineering at the University of South Australia, forming the basis for the internationally renowned Institute for Telecommunications Research.
Global Positioning System (GPS) signals were made available to civilian users around the globe in 1983. This marked the beginning of Australia’s significant use of satellite-derived position, navigation and timing data.
Unfortunately also in 1983 there was only one Landsat satellite left in orbit that wasn’t going to last forever and Australia had no backup satellite data access unless we could receive and process newer satellite instrument signals. CSIRO was made aware but only provided 25% of the funds required to upgrade ALS to equip it to receive the different transmission frequency and data format. An individual had to raise funds to provide the rest.
Voyager-1 encountered Saturn in November and 9 months later Voyager-2. After the encounter we knew that Saturn had 60 satellites that orbited the planet. Again due to Solar system orbital dynamics Tidbinbilla was pivotal in collecting data from the spacecraft. Voyager-1 following its successful encounter starts to leave the ecliptic at an angle of 35 degrees.
As a result of Reagan administration policy changes in 1981 the Land Remote-Sensing Commercialisation Act Of 1984 (PL 98-365) came into law in the United States: it tripled the cost overnight of operating the Australian Landsat Station.
The CSIRO Office for Space Science and Applications was established in 1984. The purpose of the Office was to coordinate CSIRO’s space-related research activities.
Also in 1984 the then Federal Minister for Science and Technology invited the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences to propose a set of national goals for Australia in space. A working party established by the group submitted its response in 1985. Amongst a number of proposals, the response recommended that Australia should establish a national space policy, the government should take a leading role in facilitating the development of Australia’s space capabilities, and that an independent body should be established to advise the government on space policies and priorities, and be the national ‘flag carrier’ for Australian space efforts.
In 1985, two AUSSAT communications satellites, Aussat A1 and Aussat A2, were launched into orbit by the Space Shuttles Discovery and Atlantis. Belrose operations centre was established and remains the key operations centre for Optus satellite services.
In the mid-1980s Australia started to look at developing an integrated national space strategy to take it into the next two decades. A major review of Australia’s involvement in space that recommended a strategy for the future, A Space Policy for Australia, otherwise known as the Madigan Report was published in 1985. Remote sensing was considered to be the main thrust of this strategy. As a result of this report, the Australian Space Board (reporting directly to Government) and the Australian Space Office (inside the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce) were established after the Government announced its support of the direction of the recommendations proposed by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences’ working group. ASO’s motto was “Making Space for Australia.”
About the same time satellite operators, especially mining, were becoming more commercial and started introducing confidentiality requirements into their agreements with ground stations all over the world. The effect in Australia was to greatly reduce the ability of the ALS to cooperate with industry.
The Australian Space Board established a Remote Sensing Working Group to develop a formal policy for the development of the field in Australia
Voyager-2 makes a solo encounter with Uranus. Voyager found an additional 10 moons at Uranus. Again due to orbital dynamics Tidbinbilla was critical in recovering data from Voyager. Parkes was called in to support in order to increase the amount of data that could be recovered from the fly-by.
In 1986 the French Space Agency, CNES, had launched and were operating an impressive new Earth Observation Satellite and the Australian Landsat Station set out to access this data. Cultural differences and language barriers did not result in this going well. At one point Australia accidentally asked France to be their mistress. Eventually a contract was signed to buy data from the CNES System Pour l’Observation de la Terre (SPOT) and the ALS was able to start distributing images and data. The change to receiving and distributing data from two different satellite families meant that the name Australian Landsat Station was no longer appropriate and in October 1986 the name was changed to Australian Centre for Remote Sensing (ACRES).
Successive federal budgets provided around $4 million per year for a National Space Program, which aimed to promote the growth of commercially viable industries based on space technologies, and encourage greater involvement by industry in space research and development. The $15 million funding required for the upgrade of ACRES facilities to enable it to receive new types of satellite data was also finally allocated in the Federal Budget of 1986. The upgrade was at last completed in 1988, six years after the launch of the first satellite carrying this new equipment.
An additional AUSSAT communications satellite, the Aussat A3, was launched into orbit in 1987.
In 1986 and 1987 the Queensland Government commissioned a feasibility studies for a lunch site on Cape York. The Cape York Space Agency was founded in 1986 to launch Zenit-2 LVs out of Weipa. By 1989 they’d run out of money and in 1992 the project was abandoned entirely.
1988 saw another administrative change for ACRES when it left the Department of Minerals and Energy to become part of the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (AUSLIG) within the Department of Administrative Services. AUSLIG had just been formed by the merger of the Division of National Mapping and the Australian Survey Office. Remote sensing in Australia suffered something of an identity crisis over the years, at least in government circles.
The completion of the ALS/ACRES upgrade in 1988 saw the beginning of a new era in remote sensing. The facilities had gone from receiving data for just one type of instrument on just one satellite to being able to pick up several instruments on several different satellites. This expansion was set to continue as new satellites, with a wide variety of instruments on board, were being launched by many different countries. There was also a move towards far more private sector involvement in running satellites and image distribution.
The development of an Australian Remote Sensing Policy was contracted to Technical and Field Surveys and the resulting industry strategy and action plan was presented to the Australian Space Board under the heading Sensing Opportunities for Australia in July 1989. The document was formally adopted as policy by the Australian Space Board, and a Remote Sensing Committee was established to put the policy into practice, headed up by the CSIRO Office of Space Science and Applications (COSSA) Chair. They were in charge of approving government funding for major remote sensing projects.
The Cape York Space Agency ceased in 1989 and The Essington Group was formed, both were initiative from the Queensland State Government based on a joint Australia-Russia venture using Zenit-2 LVs and supported by Glavkosmos. Essington ceased in 1992.
In 1989 Voyager-2 visited Neptune to complete the visits to the outer planets. Again Tidbinbilla was at the centre of the encounter activities, along with some support from Parkes and also Goldstone, California, to again increase the data rate return from the spacecraft. Following the successful encounter Voyager-2 then began to head south out of the ecliptic plane at an angle of 58 degrees, eventually to become an object visible from the Southern Hemisphere only.
Given the Australian Space Office had been established and that Australia was now buying satellite data from ERS-1, the European Space Agency approached Australia again and made another offer, of Associate Membership, akin to the one established with Canada in the 1970s, which would give Australia full access to ESA projects and a 1:1 georeturn of all monetary contributions annually along with a free technology, free satellite data access and knowledge transfer of the last 20 years of space engineering that Australia was no longer actively participating in outside of data purchasing and signal processing. The response to this was thoroughly botched and Bob Hawke was again pressured by a combination of the United States military and Australian politicians to say no.
By the 1990’s Australia routinely accessed remote sensing data from the US Landsat and NOAA satellites, the French SPOT satellites, the European ERS-1 radar satellite, and the Japanese Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS). Australia was now recognised internationally as a highly professional provider of ground support, and an innovative and effective user of data provided by other countries, particularly in the analysis and processing of raw data.
The ESA spacecraft Ulysses was launched in October 1990 on a mission to study the poles of the Sun in greater detail. To achieve this initially it flew out to Jupiter and then swung back south, out of the ecliptic plane, to fly over the South Pole of the Sun. During that time Tidbinbilla had an exclusive view of the spacecraft as the first details emerged. The spacecraft lasted for more than 12 years.
The Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI) came about in the early 1990s as the result of a merger between the AUSROC Launch Vehicle Development Group at Monash University in Melbourne and the Australian Space Engineering Research Association (ASERA). They started propulsion development engineering, were certified safety officers and launch officers for sounding rockets, took over a large quantity of Zuni rockets and offered them as launch opportunities for payloads, conducting launch campaigns at Woomera twice a year up until the 2010, when the ADF essentially prohibited non-military use of Woomera. Many University theses were completed thanks to ASRI and the Zunis, including the student supersonic projects in Queensland.
After haphazard hangouts as more of a space club the National Space Society of Australia held the first Australian Space Development Conference in 1990 in Sydney with the financial support of GIO Reinsurance, OTC Australia, Baker & McKenzie, the Cape York Space Agency’s successor The Essington Group, Australian Airlines and American Airlines, and the Australian Space Office.
ASRI held their first national space conference in 1991 and held 19 conferences annually in total up until 2009.
The Magellan Mission to Venus spacecraft entered orbit August 1990 and then proceeded to map the surface of Venus in unprecedented detail through 1994. Tidbinbilla supported the mission.
CSIRO and Australian industry provided some design and component construction contributions to the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR)-1 and -2 instruments and the Advanced ATSR (AATSR) instrument. The ATSR series of instruments were jointly funded by the UK and Australian Governments, and were flown onboard the European Space Agency’s ERS-1 (ATSR-1, launched 1991) and -2 (ATSR-2, launched 1995) satellites. The Advanced ATSR instrument was launched onboard ESA’s ENVISAT satellite in 2002, and continued to function until 2012.
Optus acquired AUSSAT and its satellites when it became Australia’s new telecommunications carrier in January 1992. The communications satellite, Optus B1, was launched into orbit in 1992.
The Essington Group (formed to replace the Cape York Space Agency) ceased in 1992 and its place was taken by the Space Transportation System (STS) formed in 1992. STS planned to launch Proton-Ks from Darwin and Melville island in collaboration with Russia.
An Agreement between Australia and the United States concerning the Conduct of Scientific Balloon Flights for Civil Research Purposes was established in 1992.
In the same year a NASA shuttle flight carried an Australian ultraviolet space telescope Endeavour into orbit.
The 2nd Australian Space Development Conference was held in Sydney in October 1992 and included the establishment of Australian Space Industry Chamber of Commerce (which would in the 2010’s become the Space Industry Association of Australia).
Rocketplane Kistler was incorporated in 1993 in South Australia as a joint Australian-US venture with the aim to launch a two stage RLV COTS program. It all went horribly wrong and ended expensively in 2001, finally de-registering in 2007.
The Australian Government commissioned an expert panel review (the Curtis review) of the National Space Program in 1992. As a result, the Australian Space Council Act 1994 was passed, which created a space council. The council’s mandate was to report on matters affecting the application of space-related science, and to recommend a national space policy called the National Space Program to encourage the application of space-related science and technology by the public and private sector in Australia.
Lockridge Earth Station was built in 1993 and continues to support international and some domestic satellite services. It’s still staffed 24 hours a day in recognition of its key role as a Tracking, Telemetry & Control facility.
The 3rd Australian Space Development Conference was held in Sydney in 1994 and was used by the then Australian Space Office to launch it’s five year plan for the Australian space industry.
UniSA’s DCG developed into the Institute for Telecommunications Research (ITR) in 1994. ITR is the largest university-based research organisation in the area of wireless communications in Australia and conducts its research in four main areas: satellite communications, high speed data communications, flexible radios and networks and computational and theoretical neuroscience. They developed satellite ground station modems used in ACRES and commercial ground stations. ITR also operates the ASTRA and S-Band antennas, used by ESA for ATV missions to ISS and the first Dragon missions by SpaceX.
In 1994 the Optus B3 communications satellite was launched into orbit to replace the failed Optus B2 satellite, which never reached orbit due to a launch vehicle failure. It is located at the 164°E orbital slot in inclined orbit with a footprint covering Australia and New Zealand. Optus B3 carries 16 transponders, 15 of them operating in the Ku-band and the remaining in the L-band with Ku-band feeder links.
In 1995, the Galileo probe entered Jupiter’s atmosphere. CDSCC was the prime tracking and communications station for this mission. The probe revealed that the chemical composition and structure of the atmosphere was not what was expected.
Seeing a niche in satellite data distribution, John Douglas founded the highly successful Apogee Imaging International, an Adelaide based Remote Sensing Company, in 1995. He travelled the world and directed projects in Africa, Asia, and Australia for the following 15 years.
The Oxford Falls Earth Station was established in 1995. The facility is Optus’ international gateway for voice, data and video services from international news gatherers as well as providing international communications for key Australian government departments and pay TV providers.
The Government abolished the Australian Space Office and the Australian Space Council, and terminated National Space Program funding in 1996. Several key people tried to morph it into the Australian Space Agency Office but this fell on deaf ears.
Along with ASICC, the NSSA called for the establishment of an Australian National Space Agency (ANSA) and, through the efforts of Philip Young, released the white paper “Space Australia” to the government. Nothing resulted from these petitions.
The Australian-born astronaut Dr Andy Thomas AO flew his first flight into space on Endeavour in the same year.
In 1996 CSIRO, on behalf of Australia, was Chair of international Earth observation cooperative body the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS).
The Western Pacific Laser Tracking Network satellite, WESTPAC, owned by Canberra based Electro Optics Systems Pty Ltd, was launched in 1998.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems was established in 1998, to investigate applications of small satellites for Australia.
In 1998 Melbourne hosted the 49th International Astronautical Congress – the first time this annual global event was held in Australia.
The 5th Australian Space Development Conference was held in Sydney in July 1998 and the Melbourne Space Frontier Society had a brief resurgence. An offshoot group also held Space Frontier conferences for a few years.
Spacelift Australia Ltd (SLA) was formed in 1999 as a joint Australian-Russian venture with the aim to create 150 jobs and a $200million industry at Woomera using the START-1 LV and converting a Russian ICBM. It ended in 2001.
United Launch Systems International (ULSI) proposed a new-generation vehicle, the Unity-22, to be targeted at the LEO market. The ULSI consortium was made up of International Space Development of Bermuda, which held 90% of shares, and Projects International Australia, holding the remaining 10%. International Space Development was in turn majority-owned by Thai Satellite Telecommunications (TST). ULSI proposed to undertake test launches from a new range near Gladstone in northern Queensland, Australia, in 2002, with commercial operations starting in 2003 at an initial rate of six launches a year. None of that happened.
Spacelift Australia raised almost $1million in capital from a Russian investor and targeted the lower end of the commercial launch market, aiming to use the Russian SS-25-based Start rocket as the basis for a total turnkey service provided by STC-Complex MIHT. Starting in November 2000, Spacelift planned three demonstration flights from Woomera and actively sought customers and prepayments, promising full commercial flights from 2001. It didn’t burn rocket fuel but it would go on to burn a lot of money in the next two years.
In 1999 there were five different spaceport consortiums in Australia, four of which were based on Russian hardware, all aiming to set up commercial launch facilities.
The Australian Space Council Act 1994 was repealed in 1999.
Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar (JDFN), located near Woomera, ceased operations and was decommissioned. The ADF now uses the site occasionally for army test and evaluation work under the approval of the Woomera Test Range. The whole facility is completely empty and stripped – even lights and power plugs. One of the giant ‘golf balls’ remains in tact as an impressive radome structure (non-operational, all mechanisms removed).
Australian University students collaborated together to hold the Space Futures Conference 2000.
By 2000 the listed offices for Spacelift Australia in Adelaide could no longer be found, somehow it still had a further $2.5million pumped in by various investors including one major $1million contribution from an Australian individual. By 2001 there was a reverse takeover attempt by Geographe who announced it was going to raise up to $1.24 million by a share placement, then invest $1.5 million in Spacelift to give it a shareholding of 17 per cent. In 2001, Geographe would acquire the rest of the shares in Spacelift for $9 million, which would be satisfied by issuing Geographe shares to Spacelift. There was an Australian/Russian inter-governmental cooperation agreement and a market research report into demand for Spacelift’s proposed service and a feasibility study into the suitability of the launching facilities at Woomera. What happened to the money and the rockets and the plans remains a mystery.
A couple of years after the repeal of the ASC Act 1994, the Space Activities Regulations of 2001 was published to supplement the new Space Activities Act of 1998.
Kistler Aerospace was the most promising development out of all of the spaceport proposals in Australia in the 90s, with a plan to operate the K-1 re-usable rocket to launch LEO payloads from Woomera. However, the project suffered significant financial problems since the Asian economic meltdown of 1997-8 and was a year behind schedule. They nonetheless secured $32million in NASA funding to run operations out of Woomera in 2001, which was to turn into $500million if they met deadlines. They did not, were terminated by NASA and later filed for Chapter 11, lost all funding and shattered confidence in the space sector nationally and this time, also internationally.
The first Australian Space Science Conference was organised by an offshoot of the National Space Society of Australia in 2001 and has continued as an annual event, outlasting the ASDC, which ceased in the early 2010s and the ASSC in the mid-2010s rebranded as the Australian Space Research Conference. It has rotated between host cities of Canberra, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
In the 90s, but apexed in 2001 was the biggest investment ever by Australia in space: $101million was given to a Asia Pacific Space Centre (ASPC) Pty Ltd, an allegedly Sydney based Australian company to build a spaceport on Christmas Island, supposedly for use by Russia (hence the otherwise random reference and sole international section in Part 5A of the Space Activities Act 1998). This was a 100% loss. The Australian Government were promised the World’s first fully commercial space launch facility on Christmas Island. APSC promised a 4 stage Aurora launch vehicle. The spaceport was supposed to be 85ha and launch 12,000kg to LEO with an orbit inclination of 11deg as well as having the capacity to launch payloads to GTO up to 4,500kg. The APSC instead refurbished a hotel and built a casino. There was a bit of a Parliamentary inquiry in 2002 but basically no repercussions. They kept the casino/hotel and went on to build and manage Australia’s detention centre nearby. The same overseas group tried under a different name in 2016 to ‘buy’ Sealaunch and ‘set it up in Darwin’.
The Australian Centenary of Federation satellite FedSat was launched on board a Japanese vehicle in 2002. FedSat was originally designed and built overseas with Australia footing the bill, but the overseas contractors went bankrupt so Australia was forced to take over and finish it ourselves. A team of excellent engineers did exactly that. The FedSat mission ran over four years and allowed the testing and refinement of new technologies in satellite computing, positioning technologies and communications. It also collected valuable data on space weather and radiowave propagation.
The 2nd Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2002.
The same group of University students from SF2000 put together a stellar program and funding for SpaceFutures 2003 which was attended by NASA and ESA and representatives from all over Australia.
The 3rd Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2003.
Just after the devastating 2003 Canberra bushfires, AstroVision Australia was founded by an American in Sydney. They spent three years exploiting labour from Australians and promising the Australian Government things they couldn’t deliver. These included_a supercomputer and satellites that would save Canberra from future bushfires whilst streaming live, continuous, high-resolution and true-colour motion imagery and data of the Earth from a geostationary imaging satellite
In 2003, Optus successfully launched the world’s largest hybrid commercial and military communications satellite Optus C1, together with the Australian Defence Forces. This satellite was partially funded by the Department of Defence. Optus C1 is the Australian hotbird with twenty four commercial Ku-band transponders operating in beams covering Australia, New Zealand, the nearby offshore islands, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and South East Asia. Optus C1 carries subscription TV services and Aurora Free-to-Air radio and television services to remote areas in Australia.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) first deep space ground station in New Norcia opened in Western Australia in 2003. The ground station provides daily support to ESA’s Mars Express, Rosetta and Venus Express missions for routine operations. At the opening, ESA approached the Australian Government representative (WA Premier Geoff Gallop) and repeated their offer of ESA Associate Membership, along with free data from the Rosetta and other upcoming missions. Gallop didn’t understand what they were talking about, left the event, and Australia never replied. The offer eventually expired.
After a successful bid by Michael Davis and team, the International Space University Summer Space Program was held in Adelaide in early 2004.
In 2004, the Mount Stromlo Satellite Laser Ranging Observatory in the Australian Capital Territory became operational.
The Australian Space Development Conference moved to Adelaide in mid-2004 where it has been held every two years, except 2006, since then.
The 4th Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2004.
Two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed on Mars in 2004, to further the understanding of water processes on Mars in the past. CDSCC was the prime tracking and communications station for the landings, providing communication with the rovers. CDSCC supported Spirit to mission end in 2011 and still supports Opportunity.
Russia and Australia entered into a bilateral treaty in 2004 on Cooperation in the Field of the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.
In 2005 Senator Grant Chapman established a Space Policy Advisory Group (SPAG), which published a report, “Space: A Priority for Australia” calling for a clear national space policy. The Senator forwarded it to the Prime Minister in November of the same year and this was the catalyst for the major 2008 Space Senate Inquiry.
The 5th Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2005.
The Australian Space Development Conference and the Australian Space Science Conference 2006 were jointly held in Canberra.
By 2006 AstroVision Australia had convinced Government, Apple, other companies and private individuals to part with significant amounts of money. They sent many Australians bankrupt and returned to the US without delivering any product.
The Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) was opened in 2006. VSSEC is a specialist centre that promotes and demonstrates engaging science education.
In October 2006 the Optus D1 communications satellite was launched and replaced B1 at 160°E. It carries 24 Ku-band transponders designed to provide fixed communications and direct television broadcasting services including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), the Seven Network, Nine Network, Sky Television New Zealand and New Zealand’s Kordia.
Optus D2 was launched into orbit in 2007 to replace Optus B3 to provide fixed and broadcasting communications at 152° for ethnic broadcast services and VSAT services.
The 7th Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2007 in Sydney.
In 2008 the Standing Committee on Economics released a report, Lost in space? Setting a New Direction for Australia’s Space Science and Industry Sector in response to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s space science and industry sector (commonly referred to as the Space Senate Inquiry of 2008). The report recommended ‘that immediate steps are taken to coordinate our space activities and reduce our over reliance on other countries in the area of space technology’. This was announced at the Australian Space Development Conference 2008 in Adelaide and many networks and actions were taken at this event.
ITR Adelaide became part in 2008 of a small international network of ground stations tracking ESA’s Automated Transfer vehicle (ATV) which supplied and refuelled the International Space Station. It continued to support tracking until the final ATV in 2015.
Later that year the 8th Australian Space Science Conference was held in Canberra.
In 2009, the Australian Government established the Space Policy Unit as Australia’s central point of contact and coordination for civilian space activities.
The Space Policy Unit administered a $40 million Australian Space Research Program (ASRP). The ASRP provided 14 grants over four years to Australian and international consortiums, and has been successful in building stronger links between industry and government.
The ASRP funding has been the catalyst for the establishment of a number of new centres in Australia with sophisticated space-related capabilities, including the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre (AITC) at Mount Stromlo established by the Australia National University, and a Satellite Positioning for Atmosphere, Climate and Environment Research Centre established by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University.
The Space Industry Innovation Council was established in 2009 to provide strategic advice on space innovation priorities to the Minister, champion innovation in the space sector and build connections with other organisations.
The CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Division was established, bringing two major CSIRO-operated national space facilities, the Australia Telescope National Facility and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, under one banner.
Optus successfully launched its D3 satellite on the 22nd August 2009 from French Guiana in South America. This satellite provides services for Foxtel.
Also in 2009 the 9th Australian Space Science Conference was held in Sydney.
During the 2000’s, Australia was closely involved in international research and development efforts in hypersonic aerodynamics, which refers to speeds of Mach 5 and above. In 2009, the first successful test flight of a hypersonic aircraft was demonstrated at Woomera. The joint HIFiRE research project between the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the US Air Force is investigating hypersonics technology. It is examining the application of hypersonics to scramjet-powered space launch vehicles.
In 2010, South Australia was the landing site for the remarkable Japanese asteroid-return mission, Hayabusa: the first uncrewed spacecraft to return to Earth having collected a sample from the asteroid, Itokawa. It landed just past Glendambo very early in the morning, exactly on time and on range, as calculated by Australian company Aerospace Concepts (now SHOAL). The Woomera Heritage Centre added a new Hyabusa exhibit – its first update since 1971.
In the spirit of SpaceFutures00/03, two Australian Engineers collaborated to found the Aerospace Futures Conference, which is still ongoing as an annual event today, for University students to attend, network and plan their career.
A consortium led by Michael Davis and Dr Naomi Mathers and Brett Biddington started the process of applying to become host city for the International Astronautical Congress 2014. After discovering the politics, this was later turned into a long term goal of bidding for 2017.
After 15 years of serving the Australian community with remote sensing products from earth observation satellites and aerial imagery, Apogee Imaging International ceased operations in 2010 when John Douglas retired. The company’s focus was on providing value added information and geospatial services based on optical and SAR data. They were a regular supporter of Australian Space Events and Conferences.
Spacecore, an individual project, gained free office space and use of the laboratories at Mt Stromlo with the promise to be Australia’s first space incubator, employ Australians and revive the Stromlo site, still recovering from bushfire damage. They used the labs to work on a personal project for Mexico to cool down cars with a new air conditioner aimed at the Middle East market. No space activities were undertaken and the labs/offices were eventually recalled for other Stromlo use.
The 10th Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2010 in Brisbane. Earlier in the year the Australian Space Development Conference was held in Adelaide.
In 2011 Australia entered into an agreement with the European Space Agency (ESA) for a co-operative space vehicle tracking program, as supportive ground stations, operated by ESA in Australia.
The ACMA issued Embargo49, and sent a repeal notice to ESA asking if they could relocate several tons of delicate deep space tracking hardware, that had taken years to build, a mere 300km. ESA and the ITU sent an official detailed reply (.doc download link) to Australia that relocation of a $28million piece of hardware without sufficient technical reason was against international law. The Australia Government lacked the technical expertise to understand that. It caused significant issues for the Rosetta Mission, amongst others.
A group called the Climate Regional Readiness Review (Climate R3) was initiated by Australia in 2011 to determine the ability of countries that participate in the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) to gain benefit from climate information provided by satellites.
The Principles for a National Space Industry Policy were released in 2011. The principles were the first statement of Australia’s space policy direction and provide a vision for Australia’s use of space and space-related technologies.
The 11th Australian Space Science Conference was held in 2011 in Canberra.
The Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre (AITC), a new $25M precision manufacturing and test facility was opened in Canberra, Australia. A consortium member in five successful Australian Space Research Program (ASRP) grants, the AITC is designing and building one of the first instruments that will be used with the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), the GMT Integral-Field Spectrograph (GMTIFS) and developing the Laser Tomography Adaptive Optics (L TAO) subsystem for the project. AITC became a member of IAF in 2012 and was instrumental in testing cubesats in 2016. It is still going strong.
The final version of space beer, after being taste tested at Yuri’s Night 2010, further refined and parabolic flight tested was released officially as the first beer suitable for space: 4Pines Stout. The collaboration is no gimmick – the brainchild of Saber Astronautics and 4Pines – it solved the problem of delivery in space via an innovative 3D printed system, enhanced flavour to compensate for tongue swelling in microgravity and absolute minimum carbonation to make it suitable for astronauts. Available nationwide at Dan Murphy’s.
In 2011 Australia started University level participation in the QB50 project with three universities in the end committing in 2012 to build something with hundreds of students over four years costing around $1million for the 3U cubesat. Algerian students did a 3U cubesat in one year for $200,000 as a collaborative project. Ten year olds in the US and Europe regularly produce similar satellites in three months for $150,000.
At a meeting in Berlin on 16 March 2011, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Australian Solar Institute (ASI) agreed to cooperate on research into concentrating solar energy technology.
The Director General of the European Space Agency tried to initiate discussions again in 2011/2012 with Australia to find points of future collaboration but it fell flat thanks to technical incompetence, indifference and lack of coordination on the Australian side.
Australia announced its in-principle support for the Code of Conduct for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space Activities in 2012. The code seeks to develop international norms to ensure the safety and sustainability of outer space activities and to prevent outer space from becoming an area of conflict.
In 2012 Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were announced as the locations for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio-telescope antennas. The SKA will allow astronomers to survey tens of millions of distant galaxies and collect vast quantities of new data about the universe – providing answers to age old questions concerning the very beginnings of the universe and the nature of dark matter.
Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Geological Survey to obtain data from the Landsat 8 mission.
International Cooperation for the Development of Space (Aerospace Technology Working Group Book 4) was published with an excellent chapter about Australia in a global context. The full text can be accessed here (pdf).
The 12th Australian Space Science Conference was held in Melbourne in 2012.
Also in 2012, Australia and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Cooperation in Civil Space Science, Technology and Education. This allows for engagement between the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Australian Government to ensure enhanced cooperation in key civil space capabilities.
In August 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), a 900 kg roving scientific laboratory, landed on Mars. The antennas at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (Tidbinbilla) received the signals throughout the 7 minute landing sequence, essential to knowing whether Curiosity had landed successfully. Parkes played a supporting role in receiving and recording (to be sent later) the UHF tones throughout the first few minutes of the landing. CDSCC continues to support Curiosity.
A comprehensive national space policy was released on 9 April 2013. Australia’s Satellite Utilisation Policy provides a strategy for Australia to maintain cost effective access to the space capabilities on which our nation relies.
The 13th Australian Space Science Conference was held in Sydney in 2013.
In 2014 a joint Australian-Indian short program of space operations called “Arkaroola Mars Robot Challenge Expedition” Challenge was funded by the Australia-India Council, thanks to an initiative and grant by Saber Astronautics, coordinated with the Mars Society of Australia. The Responsive Space Operations Centre (RSOC) in Sydney monitored an Indian Mars rover prototype from the Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai). The RSOC was set up in a simulated Mars condition providing direct support to teams for space weather analysis, diagnostics, and human-robotic interactions.
September 2014 saw the launch of another Optus Satellite 10, bringing the Australian fleet capacity up to six.
In late 2014 Australia won host city, after many long and challenging years of bidding, for the International Astronautical Congress. It will be held in Adelaide in 2017.
At the same time (the exact week in fact) the Australian Space Research Conference (rebranded from the Australia Space Science Conference, held annually since 2001) was held in Adelaide. The clash remains curious as the Australian organisers knew in advance but refused to moved to the other week of Spring holidays for unspecified historical reasons so no-one who attended the ASRC could attend the IAC and visa versa.
ESA and CSIRO renewed their data purchasing agreements at the Paris Air Show in 2015, with Australia signing up to continue to buy data from ESA. Geosciences Australia has a similar ongoing agreement. At more than the cost of annual ESA membership, with which Australia could have the same data for free. Australia did barter some discount due to our advanced algorithms and data processing, however ESA membership would still be cheaper.
Two brothers purchased a strawberry farm in Queensland and transformed it into a space simulator training facility and museum, expanding their Singapore based rocket propulsion company Gilmour Space Technologies.
The 15th Australian Space Research Conference was held in 2015 in Canberra.
Saber Astronautics, after many parabolic flights, iterative improvement and refinement, shipped the first flight version of DragEN tether deployer to ISRO, for installation on their cubesat to be launched in 2016.
Newsat filed for bankruptcy in 2015, causing the first ever U.S. and French export-credit agencies satellite industry failure. Unrecoverable loss of well over $100 million for EXIM bank, which is still now fighting for survival in US Congress. Lockheed Martin cancelled the entire Jabiru project. Arianespace suddenly had an empty launch slot. Many excellent Australians lost their jobs and moved into other industries or moved back overseas. Newsat had attempted to poach many Australian Expat Space Engineers to work back home in 2014, most declined and were thankful in retrospect. Gross mis-management caused the loss of over $354million.
The first NBN Satellite was launched. Australia was not considered by NBN Co stakeholders to have any satellite building capacity so they were designed and built by SSL in the United States and launched by Europe’s Arianespace. Zero Australian participation except footing the $2billion bill. On the same rocket was an Argentinian satellite, 100% designed and built in Argentina: their second in a trio of satellites for home broadband internet for Argentina.
University of New South Wales, Canberra Space Research was granted $10million over 5 years to invest and build capability for in-orbit research and in-orbit technology demonstration to meet national needs. The effort includes close partnership with the Defence, Science and Technology Group (DST) and others in Australia plus overseas in the US and potentially also Europe.
Saber Astronautics’ new PIGI satellite control software went into final beta testing by the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA), University of New South Wales, and Melbourne University and range of individual and small business customers also purchased licenses. The software is now commercially available for purchase.
In late 2015 Space beat out Pharmaceutical for a spot on the Australian Government Policy Summit Agenda slated for October 2016.
For the first time, an Australian school (via an alliance with teams from Germany and Romania) competed in the finals of ZeroG Robotics. They had their code tested in real time by astronauts on board the ISS in January 2016.
Following many behind the scenes efforts in 2015, the Space Activities Act of 1998 and the supplementary 2001 Regulations were finally brought to review. Key experts met at Parliament House in Canberra in February 2016 and public submissions were open February until April 30th, 2016. A space lawyer in WA is collating these responses together with the Civil Space Office and will release a new Space Activities Act in late 2016.
The Melbourne Space Society was reactivated by university students and included advisory members from the original 1960/70s Melbourne satellite team. They organised and held the multi-day Space Frontier Festival in 2016.
Quberider was issued an overseas launch licence to send a raspberry pi based student experiment to the International Space Station through Nanoracks in 2016 or 2017.
Saber Astronautics was selected in 2016 as the operations provider for Fleet Space Technologies Pty Ltd new satellite constellation providing connectivity to the Internet of Things. Fleet Space, based in Adelaide, plans to launch 100 small satellites starting in 2017. Areas that are difficult to reach, such as the Australian Outback and many farms and smaller townships, are planned to be the first stakeholders of the network.
CNES announced that they will launch their next round of Space Telescope High Altitude balloons from the centre of Australia, facilitated by CSIRO. The balloons were planned to stay aloft for 24hours at 39km to take measurements sometime in 2017 but it has yet to occur.
In May 2016, a student team from UNSW qualified for the European Rover Challenge. They ended up placing 9th in the world in the final ERC in September 2016, a very impressive result.
In June 2016 the South Australian Space Capability Directory (pdf) was released, providing a picture of the existing South Australian space community. The publication features key information about the enterprises, consultancies, associations, researcher organisations, educational institutions and government departments currently contributing to our state’s vibrant space ecosystem.
Lockheed Martin expanded their Melbourne operations with an R&D Facility for data research. Jury is out how much space work there will be – it’s mostly defence centred in hypersonics, autonomy, robotics and command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and it aims to employ a small workforce of 20 people. We note so far just three job advertisements.
Three Australian QB50 university student cubesats, funded by the European Union’s FP7 grant program, were issued overseas launch licences by the Australian Government for potential deployment by Nanoracks (USA) from the International Space Station in 2017. These small satellites cost each University about $1million and took four years to design and build. Deployment has not yet been agreed by the ISS and the QB50 grant is out of money. This is in no small part due to the temporary participation in the VKI management team in 2012 by an Australian individual who deeply damaged the project and its finances.
First ever launch of a privately developed hybrid sounding rocket, designed & built by an Australian new space company Gilmour Space Technologies: RASTA MK2 launched from Westmar in July 2016.
The South Australian State Government released the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (South Australia) Action Plan 2016-2020 (pdf). South Australia has a dedicated team within Defence SA (Space and International R&D Collaborations) to promote an active network and enhance cooperation among the main stakeholders of the space innovation ecosystem, including facilitating opportunities for engagement with international partners.
The Space Activities Act 1998 review was completed in September 2016 and submitted to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Space Coordination Office. It is unclear what will happen next as the DIIS is under no obligation to take action.
The Commonwealth Government rejected another German Space Agency (DLR) offer of space investment, capacity building, research partnerships for Australia. DLR has engaged with the government quite a few times in the last decade, providing offers and opportunities for collaboration and investment, but without success.
South Australian State Government plans to position itself as the hub of space in Australia.
New South Wales State Government plans to position itself as the hub of space in Australia.
Australian Capital Territory Government plans to position itself as the hub of space in Australia.
Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, and Neumann Space, an Australian Space startup technology company, signed the very first agreement for a hosted payload aboard the new Bartolomeo commercial space platform of the International Space Station.
The second NBN satellite, designed and built as always by Space Systems/Loral (USA) without Australian participation, was launched by Arianespace (France/EU) October 2016.
DefenceSA and Italian Space Agency sign an agreement for potential future cooperation.
Australian scientists have, over several decades, made fundamental contributions to researching astrobiology. On 1 December 2016 the inaugural meeting of Pilbara Early Life Conservation Association Inc. (PELCA) was held. PELCA has been formed to press for UN heritage listing of a geological formation containing evidence of life forms dated as 3 400 million years old (cyanobacteria), conceivably not initially of terrestrial origin.
Five Australian school teams make it into the Grand Final round of the ZeroG Robotics SPHERES Tournament aboard the International Space Station in January 2017.
Space is the focus of the Science Parliament session in February 2017.
The Space Activities Act review submissions were accepted and the entire legislation will be overhauled. Additional expert guidance was provided in April 2017.
Glimour Space Technologies closes a $5million investment from Blackbird VC to expand their Singapore / Gold Coast rocket propulsion operations.
In May 2017 Australia’s largest Founders Conference, Sunrise, featured Space keynotes on the main stage for the first time.
Following two stealth expert group reports in 2016/2017 the Minister of Industry, Innovation and Science announced in July 2017 another review committee on Australia’s Capability in Space, due March 2018. Their real mission, assuming that the public consultations prior to IAC showed support for it, was to finalise the structure and interfaces of a an Australian Space Agency.
Public consultation opened on August 3rd to define Australia’s space capabilities in the future – submissions due by August 22, extended to August 29th. All public submissions and the original documents are available at https://consult.industry.gov.au/space-activities/review-of-australian-space-industry-capability/ The public response was overwhelming for an Australian Space Agency and the Minister of Industry, Innovation and Science made the decision to announce it at the IAC Opening Ceremony.
September 2017: Adelaide hosts the International Astronautical Congress with a record number of registrations. IAF lauds it as the most successful in recent history.
September 2017: Australia announces the creation of a Federal Space Agency! To be launched in March 2018. The final structure etc will be finalised in November, taking into account the public submissions and consultations held in August, followed by standard yet expedited parliamentary reviews and the rewriting of the Space Activities Act (review process started in 2014, due to the multi-year nature of legislative change procedures). Well done to all those involved in making this happen. We’ll publish another post on the timeline/details of how it was achieved!
On 29 September 2017 following extensive background work over the last 1.5years, DLR signed a cooperation agreement with the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra for joint undertakings with the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Center (AITC) that will focus on developing and testing structures and actuators for space systems, among others. This also includes components for optical detectors in the hyperspectral and infrared range, as well as research on optical communications, satellite control and space debris tracking. The facilities also agreed on an exchange programme for their staff. With its ongoing cooperation with La Trobe University in Melbourne and the new Memorandums of Understanding signed with the University of Sydney and ANU, DLR now collaborates with three of the country’s universities.
A permanent space school opened at Hamilton Secondary College with a geologically accurate Mars training dome, student suits and SACE curriculum related problem based learning for various year levels. Hamilton teachers are a major force behind the annual South Australian Space School and National Space Camp since 1997.
Equatorial Launch Australia has been granted a 40 year sub-lease in November 2017 from Gumatj for a 60 ha parcel of Gumatj’s larger lease area adjacent to the Garma site and Gulkula mine near Nhulunbuy. An unprecedented, privately funded, Australian Spaceport is under construction only 13 degrees south of the equator with LEO launches planned in late 2018 as well as support to sounding rocket campaigns for various space agencies and private customers.
The 4th South Australian Space Forum was held in Adelaide.
A new Satellite Control Centre was constructed in 2018 near Adelaide to support the FLEET constellation.
The 5th Australian Space Agency Forum was held in Adelaide.
The 6th Australian Space Agency Forum was held in Adelaide.
The Australian Space Agency had a national exhibition booth for the first time at the International Astronautical Congress.
The 7th Australian Space Agency Forum was held in Adelaide.
Australian Space Agency central building will be in Adelaide, tenants moving in from June 2019 and official opening ceremony during Fringe in February 2020.
Airbus and the Group of Eight Australian Universities sign a new pilot program.
Australia and the UAE sign an MoU in February 2019.
Australia’s 10 year Civil Space Strategy was published in April 2019.
The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with Australian space start-up Myriota and a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with XTEK in July 2019.
The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with Australian company Speedcast International and a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with Australian SME FrontierSI, who deliver spatial information services in August 2019.
The International Space Investment (ISI) initiative started in August 2019 and provides A$15 million over three years to strategic space projects that grow the Australian space industry and build collaboration with international space agencies.
To ensure Australia’s space regulations meet technology advances and don’t unnecessarily inhibit innovation, the Australian Government updated the regulatory framework. This included amending the Space Activities Act 1998 Act and introducing rules. The updated Act, now known as the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018, commenced on 31 August 2019.
The Australian Space Agency and NASA have launched a new partnership on future space cooperation.
The 8th Australian Space Agency Forum was held in Adelaide.
The 19th Australian Space Research Conference was held in Adelaide.
The Australian Space Agency has signed an MoU with the Tasmanian Government.
Australia and the United Kingdom will strengthen their industry ties through the formation of a Space Bridge.
The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with US based company, Maxar Technologies.
The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with EM Solutions.
The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with EOS Space Systems.
The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with Gilmour Space.