Australia established a Defense Space Command in January this year to “lead the effort to achieve our strategic space ambitions and ensure Australia’s access to space”. The government also plans to spend about $7 billion on space defense over the next decade.
Several sectors within the defense are already engaged in space activities, but the Defense Space Command will bring them together. It aims to build space capacity not only in defense but also in the rest of the government, industry and research and education sectors.
I am the Director of UNSW Canberra Space – the Space Missions, Research and Education Program at the Australian Defense Force Academy, which develops and flies satellite missions for the Defense Space Command. I have seen firsthand how defence, universities and industry can work together to develop Australian space technology and skills.
Preparing for (and preventing) conflict
Why do we need to put so much effort into space and space defense? There is a reason Australia (like the rest of the world) relies on space-based technologies to provide communications, navigation and timing, and Earth-observation services.
However, according to the United Nations Committee responsible for disarmament and international security in space, space is increasingly “crowded, competitive and competitive”.
Space services such as Planet’s remote sensing network (every day from space to every part of the planet, every day) and Starlink’s broadband Internet constellation are growing rapidly. There are now about 5,000 satellites orbiting the Earth.
The danger of confrontation is increasing, as well as the possibility of conflict. Many nations now view space as a “battlefield”, and the challenges are not only technical but also political and ethical.
Defense Space Command will prepare for such space conflict and prevent it as much as possible.
Read more: An Australian ‘space command’ could be a force for good – or a cause of war
a business environment
Another reason for Australia to venture into space more boldly is the increase in commercialisation. Space is no longer the domain of only government space agencies. A rapidly growing chain of private companies is now moving forward.
The Australian Space Agency, established in 2018, is tasked with developing the country’s space industry to be part of the global space economy. Also, the industry will support Defense Space Command and Defense more broadly.
Read more: Space agency for Australia: here’s why it matters
Australian players are new to the game, and the history of competitive markets shows disruptive innovation – the kind that creates new markets or sources of value – is the only way new entrants can compete and win against existing ones. Australia must be prepared to take risks in space, fly frequently, learn from failure and commercialize innovative technologies from research-driven space missions.
Australia (defense included) must embrace disruptive innovations in the space sector, or we will become technologically capable, but not necessarily commercially or militarily competitive.
skills for space
To meet these challenges, Defense Space Command will need a highly skilled space workforce.
Presently there are few personnel in defense who understand the complexities and harsh realities of operating in space through practical experience. One cannot learn from textbooks which missions to perform and how to do them correctly.
Analysis from different sectors also emphasizes that the workforce of the future will have an increasing need for technical skills, particularly in the areas of automation and artificial intelligence; social and emotional skills for leadership and teamwork in complex situations; and higher cognitive skills, including critical thinking and complex information processing.
All of these are important for defence. The complexities of the space sector, the necessary cross-disciplinary skills, and the relevance of space to all aspects of society, mean that training the space workforce of the future can inspire and educate not only technologists and war fighters, but critical thinkers and leaders. could. Future.
How do universities fit in?
This is where universities come in. Several universities in Australia are increasingly building space specializations, including Curtin University and the University of Melbourne. For example, take our work.
We help meet three critical needs: attracting and training a highly skilled workforce; the pursuit and commercialization of disruptive innovation; and conducting preliminary analysis and feasibility studies of potential space missions.
Defense and UNSW Canberra have jointly invested more than $30 million in the program since 2015. In that time, we have developed four missions with five satellites. We have also conducted extensive research and development for artificial intelligence-enabled space systems. We have also tracked and predicted the behavior of satellites and their interactions with the space environment (known as “space domain awareness”).
Our most recent mission, M2, was launched in March 2021. It consists of two advanced satellites that demonstrate technologies for Earth observation, satellite surveillance, communications and artificial intelligence in orbit.
The M2 mission showcased state-of-the-art technologies. UNSW Canberra, provided by the author
Our missions have increased the capability and capability of defense to develop and operate space technologies to meet national needs. The technical and operational lessons we learn are directly incorporated into our space education program and our plans for the future.
Equally important, the team has spawned three Canberra-based spin-off companies (Skycraft, Infinity Avionics and Nominal Systems) and established an in-house supply chain of approximately 30 organizations to support the missions. We have also contributed over 20 highly skilled space professionals to other parts of the Australian space sector.
UNSW Canberra Space, together with our partners in the university sector, agencies such as the Defense Science and Technology Group, the Australian Space Agency, CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, and in industry, have ambitious plans for new Australian space missions in the coming years.
There will be a lot of influx of innovation, and skill enhancement will be widespread across the country. Together, these results will make a significant and lasting contribution to the success of Defense Space Command.
Read more: Australia wants a space industry. So why wouldn’t we pay for basic research to run it?