Tassie’s great leap in space race

NASA’s Antarc­tic work puts us in the box seat, sci­en­tif­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally, says Wendy Askew

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT -

IF one day NASA finds ex­trater­res­trial life on one of Jupiter’s icy moons, Tas­ma­ni­ans can claim their part in the dis­cov­ery.

A NASA team is trav­el­ling with the Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Pro­gram to test an un­der-ice ro­bot, with the results of the study to be used to bet­ter un­der­stand Jupiter and in­ves­ti­gate Europa, one of the planet’s more than 60 moons.

This ro­bot test­ing will be one of two NASA projects the or­gan­i­sa­tion is plan­ning to run with the Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion, based in Ho­bart, through this sum­mer’s Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Pro­gram. Tests have al­ready been done in the Arc­tic and Alaska, but this will be the first Antarc­tic trial.

The Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion has been work­ing with NASA since 1993, us­ing the Aus­tralian Antarc­tic base as a space ana­logue to train as­tro­nauts, and col­lab­o­rate on hu­man re­search and op­er­a­tional medicine.

Our med­i­cal knowl­edge of hu­mans liv­ing and work­ing in re­mote set­tings, in­clud­ing work on space life sciences and space ana­logues, has been fur­thered through the Cen­tre for Antarc­tic, Re­mote and Maritime Medicine part­ner­ship be­tween the Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion, the Aus­tralian and Tas­ma­nian gov­ern­ments and the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia.

Tas­ma­nia’s stand­ing as a sig­nif­i­cant player in Aus­tralia’s space sec­tor was for­malised in Septem­ber, when the Tas­ma­nian Gov­ern­ment signed a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing with the Aus­tralian Space Agency. It’s an im­por­tant, and very ex­cit­ing, de­vel­op­ment for my home state, ce­ment­ing Tas­ma­nia’s role in grow­ing the space sec­tor.

This agree­ment builds aware­ness of the geo­graph­i­cal ad­van­tages of Tas­ma­nia for the space in­dus­try and the spe­cial­ist ca­pa­bil­i­ties the state brings to space sci­ence and re­mote medicine pi­o­neered by the Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion.

It es­tab­lishes a frame­work for Tas­ma­nian busi­nesses and re­search in­sti­tu­tions to get in­volved in this boom­ing in­dus­try, with the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional space projects and de­velop space in­dus­try skills.

It will be a pow­er­ful and pos­i­tive mo­ti­va­tor for school stu­dents de­cid­ing on fu­ture ca­reer cour­ses in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy.

When the agree­ment was signed in Septem­ber, Tas­ma­nian Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Min­is­ter Michael Fer­gu­son urged the state’s stu­dents to study sci­ence be­cause there would be job op­por­tu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia’s grow­ing space in­dus­try.

“Tas­ma­nia’s in­vest­ment in new hy­po­baric fa­cil­i­ties, growth of our ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing skills base, our ra­dio tele­scope net­work and our Antarc­tic gate­way put Tas­ma­nia in a strong po­si­tion,” Mr Fer­gu­son said at the time.

Of course Tas­ma­nia is not the only state get­ting ac­cess to these op­por­tu­ni­ties. The Mor­ri­son Gov­ern­ment is work­ing with South Aus­tralia, West­ern Aus­tralia, ACT and NSW on their in­volve­ment in the space sec­tor. This all links in with the $150 mil­lion Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son an­nounced the Gov­ern­ment is in­vest­ing in Aus­tralia’s space ca­pa­bil­i­ties, so our busi­nesses can be part of the sup­ply chain for NASA’s Moon to Mars Mis­sion, which will see us re­turn to the Moon in 2024 fol­lowed by the first hu­man visit to Mars.

It could be agreed that the

Moon and Mars qual­ify as re­mote set­tings, but as­tro­nauts trav­el­ling to both lo­ca­tions will need ac­cess to med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and ex­per­tise and this is where the Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion’s ex­pe­ri­ence comes in.

These are ex­cit­ing and his­toric projects and we all know the ben­e­fi­cial sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances these

Space mis­sions pro­duce.

Other ex­am­ples of Tas­ma­nia’s close re­la­tion­ship with the Aus­tralian Space Agency are the Space In­fra­struc­ture Fund, Global Nav­i­ga­tion Satel­lite Sys­tem and the In­te­grated Marine Ob­serv­ing Sys­tem. The fed­eral Space In­fra­struc­ture Fund will see Tas­ma­nia’s space track­ing fa­cil­i­ties up­graded to sup­port com­mer­cial or­bit and de-or­bit track­ing. This is a $1.2 mil­lion in­vest­ment and starts this year to up­grade in­fra­struc­ture to com­mer­cial stan­dard to al­low for pre­ci­sion track­ing of satel­lites and space­craft.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Geo­science Aus­tralia’s in­vest­ment in

Tas­ma­nia in­cludes $9 mil­lion over the for­ward estimates for Global Nav­i­ga­tion Satel­lite Sys­tem ground station in­fra­struc­ture, and $1.2 mil­lion for the Na­tional Geode­tic Ra­dio Astron­omy Fa­cil­ity.

The In­te­grated Marine Ob­serv­ing Sys­tem’s Satel­lite Al­time­try Fa­cil­ity, op­er­ated by the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia, is the only cal­i­bra­tion fa­cil­ity in the South­ern Hemi­sphere used for as­sess­ment of the US/ESA satel­lite sea level mis­sions over the past two decades.

This strong po­si­tion in­cludes Tas­ma­nia’s in­ter­na­tion­ally re­garded ra­dio tele­scope net­work and world-lead­ing re­search fa­cil­i­ties in Antarc­tic and marine sciences.

It is worth not­ing that the Aus­tralian space sec­tor is worth about $4 bil­lion and em­ploys abo 10,000 peo­ple. The Mor­ri­son Gov­ern­ment’s goal is to sup­port and fund ini­tia­tives that can triple that to $12 bil­lion – and add an extra 20,000 jobs – by 2030.

These jobs will be right across the space in­dus­try sup­ply chain, from data an­a­lysts, to trades­peo­ple to help man­u­fac­ture and main­tain equip­ment, through to rocket sci­en­tists.

Tas­ma­nia is now po­si­tioned to be part of these ex­cit­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Wendy Askew is a Lib­eral sen­a­tor for Tas­ma­nia.

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