The short answer is, on a global scale, nothing significant yet. Otherwise we’d be working at home.
Australia has a 92% import space economy, purchasing satellite data from overseas (APAC State of Space Report, 2016). See the full history here.
Yes, we run ground stations for other people, including Optus and NBN (foreign purchased and designed) and we have excellent astronomy (again, ground stations) and the school programs + Academia are high, even attracting international students, but after that they either work in defence, on the subs, on trains or something completely unrelated to space if graduates wish to remain in Australia. Woomera is a defence site, not a space site. One Australian satellite was launched from Woomera in the 60s. One UK satellite was launched from Woomera in 1971. In 2017 a few small sats were launched, most didn’t work and they only had a lifespan of a few months. Recently one more smallsat was launched and has received pings with future ops TBA. There are some good startups happening now, but still no Australian spacecraft has gone to space from Australia since the standalone launch in 1967. There is a brand new equatorial space port in the works and we are looking forward to future developments.
If a space engineer with 10 years experience at NASA wanted to move to Australia: what job would they apply for?
Australia is no longer the only country besides Iceland in the OECD that doesn’t have a Space Agency! NZ has one, and a nice propulsion industry to go with it, with several Aussies working over there. Iceland resolved in June 2016 with a bipartisan MP motion to create a national space agency and join ESA.
Australia has no satellites of their own for earth observation, navigation nor precise timing (used in banking etc) and no international partnerships to leverage cheap access to this satellite data through other space agencies as such a partnership requires a national space agency so taxpayers pay an extraordinary amount for this satellite data, across 17 different departments and agencies nationally plus different GIS departments in most States. And BOM space weather.
Creating a space agency is purely a political decision that could have been done at any time and was finally announced, after many years of background work by the Australian ‘space tiger team’, at the IAC in Adelaide in September 2017. Australia had not established one in the past decades due to lack of awareness, short political cycles and the vested interest of a few people to keep the status quo.
Many space agencies have previously made generous collaboration offers to partner with Australia that would result in free tech transfer, knowledge transfer to catch Australia up on the last 50 years we missed and all the same satellite data Australia already pays around $1billion/year for just $20million/year. The ball has very much been and remains in the Australian court.
There’s been a ton of rehashes about space in Parliament – here’s one from the 90s. Here’s a cringeworthy one from 2008. Here’s an entertaining one from 1984 which was amended in 1988. This one in 2015 specifically asked about why don’t we build satellites and then forgot to answer, moving on to submarines. Another from 1967.
In 2008 we had a landmark Space Senate Inquiry and this lead to the temporary $40m/4years grants for space projects that ended when the grants did as concept studies and a Space Policy Unit that wrote Australia’s first Satellite Utilisation Policy outline in 2011 and Policy in 2013 and has now been dissolved/absorbed into the Department of Industry in 2015. The Department has started to publish this since 2014 but from a global space perspective it’s mostly embarrassing compared to other countries – tell them how to improve it here. Their 2016 report changed tone entirely and was excellent – definitely read the latest report.
Current Australian law and international treaties are on the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and compared to other countries we’re… well.. see for yourself.
As part of Mt Stromlo, Australia recently established an excellent space hardware test facility, the AITC, that is capable of shake and bake, thermal vacuum, full cleanroom and more, all suitable for spacecraft. Nearby is a data processing centre. The stellar South Australian Space Industry Centre is home to over 60 space-related organisations and committed to further growing the local industry to create a thriving space ecosystem.
One standout Australian space company that has been successful is Saber Astronautics: their CEO is a major driver behind every new startup since. See a recent presentation here. Some notable education projects that are scheduled to send things to the edge of space is the remarkable Launchbox and with a Nanoracks contract to send Aussie code on USA’s DreamUp hardware to ISS is Cuberider. For commercial satellites check out the brilliant Fleet Space Technologies and for propulsion see Gilmour Space Tech – both closed multimillion dollar funding rounds in 2017. After many years of background work, Equatorial Launch Australia is doing Australia’s first modern spaceport at Gove, NT (13 degrees south of equator). On the hardware side is the excellent research turned commercial Myriota. Schools can participate in Launchbox and Cuberider as well as ZeroRobotics right now.