It’s time to secure our space capability

It’s time to secure our space capability

The pandemic has delivered the message that sovereign capability is essential to our wellbeing and security.

EOS Communications Systems’ CEO, Glen Tindall pens an opinion piece for The Australian featured recently in the publication’s Defence Special Report.

In a time of coronavirus, self-sufficiency is firmly on the agenda, with the pandemic disrupting vital supply lines and revealing what it is like to be left exposed.

The pandemic has delivered the message that sovereign capability is essential to our wellbeing and security, with governments looking to secure essential capabilities domestically.

Obviously, we cannot do everything ourselves, but there are some activities that are too important to leave to others. Space is one of these.

Australia has a long and storied history in space, playing a key role in the moon landings and continuing to communicate with NASA’s deep space probes as they carry on their explorations beyond our solar system. But our role has always been the support act, it is now time to take the lead, because space has an importance beyond scientific exploration.

Australia has clear national interests in space and those interests need to be defended. It is now recognised by most governments as a war-fighting domain in its own right, joining land, sea, air and cyber as the areas where we may potentially engage with our adversaries.

Before we can carry out any activities in space, however, it is essential to understand the environment, what is happening there and who is doing it; what is otherwise known as Space Domain Awareness (SDA).

For 35 years, Electro Optic Systems (EOS) has been at the forefront of SDA and has long lasting and extensive co-operation with the US and selected European and Asian governments, with more than 90 per cent of our revenues sourced from exports.

SDA is the first step in any operations to respond in space and provides the foundation for other activities vital to prosecuting our interests in the other domains, such as position, navigation and timing (PNT), satellite communications (SATCOM), and Earth observation and sensing (EO).

Our increasing reliance on space capabilities means an inability to shape, deter and respond in this domain renders all efforts in other domains moot, because without SDA, SATCOM and EO our defence forces are deprived of the vital information they require to deploy and fight. SDA also allows for the tracking of space objects such as debris, which present a real danger to space-based assets.

The federal government’s recently released Force Structure Plan recognises the strategic importance of the space domain and the role that satellite communications and PNT data play in the command and control of deployed forces.

This is a welcome development, as is the federal government’s commitment of $7bn in funding to further Australia’s capability in SDA and SATCOM.

‘The ability to control our own destiny in strategically essential areas is vital to our national security’

Beyond the geostrategic implications, space technology plays an integral role in our economy and our day-to-day lives, enabling everything from supply chain management and agriculture, to weather forecasting, financial services, GPS and even the phone you are likely reading this on.

The federal government has recognised the strategic importance, and the economic potential, of the sector with the establishment of the Australian Space Agency and the Civil Space Strategy, which aims to create up to 20,000 jobs and triple the size of Australia’s space sector to $12bn during the next decade.

This dual recognition of the strategic and economic roles of the space domain means it is an ideal time to capitalise on Australia’s advantageous geography for space activities.

Within the Five Eyes community, Australia and New Zealand are optimally located in the southern and eastern hemispheres, complementing the UK, Canada and the US in the northern and western hemispheres.

That means SDA from these two geographies optimally combine to provide a comprehensive global view of what is happening in space, allowing us to protect our space-based assets, which in turn allows for the real-time sharing of information for the placement, navigation and synchronisation of our assets in the air, sea and land domains.

As we have seen during the pandemic, the ability to control our own destiny in strategically essential areas is vital to our national security. This also applies in space, where offshoring our capabilities would risk losing control of them or undermining our ability to supply and sustain them at crucial times.

Rather than spending funds overseas to obtain space capabilities, we have a unique opportunity for the federal government to further foster the creation of a truly Australian space industry. Not only would this provide the nation with the sovereign capability to shape the space domain and contribute meaningfully to coalition defence efforts, it would have benefits here on the ground as well.

Developing indigenous space capabilities would create high-value Australian jobs, generate export sales, and provide benefits across the economy.

As Dr Megan Clark AC, the head of the Australian Space Agency, has noted, our space sector touches almost every sector of the domestic economy, from robotics to communications to medicine.

Now is the time for policymakers to act to create a sovereign space capability. It is a bold vision, and Australian industry is ready to take up the challenge.