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Labor sees a future in space with Canberra-based national partnership

Lasers, unidentified space objects, giant optical telescopes – Canberra’s swath of Labor politicians can’t be accused of taking their eyes off the future, following a funding announcement that supports the capital as a hub for the burgeoning space and spatial industries.

The federal Labor party has pledged $6 million over four years towards a national partnership for innovation in the sector, to be based at the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo campus, with funds to be matched by core partners.

ACT Senator Kate Lundy said the partnership will also have access to project funding up to $10 million per year, and called on the Coalition to bring bipartisan support to the partnership.

“It will allow these industries to grow and develop through collaboration and strengthen their presence both here in the domestic market but also reaching out into the export market,” Senator Lundy said.

“This leverages one of both Canberra, and indeed Australia’s competitive strengths in the field of technology that we are fantastic at.”

The program will encourage collaboration between small and medium enterprises in the space and spatial technology fields, and aims to capitalise on Australia’s involvement in international projects like the Square Kilometre Array, and building the giant optical Magellan telescope.

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According to Professor Matthew Colless, ANU’s director at Stromlo, the partnership will bring together dozens of companies from around the country to help them build more clout in a competitive marketplace.

“It’s a big network, and one that we think we really allow us to bring together what are essentially a whole bunch of relatively small and medium industries, and it will give them enough grunt and force to actually leverage growth of the industry in Australia,” he said.

“We’re taking advantage of the fact that the ACT has got the ANU here, and a very highly educated base here to become more a high tech city than it is now…We’d like to make Mount Stromlo a technology park as well as a centre of academic excellence.

“The space sector is obviously an international sector. Space engirdles the whole earth, so anything we do here has got to reach out to the whole world. That’s where the great, enormous opportunities are for Australia to reach out and get into what is a multi, multi-billion dollar international industry.”

A key partner with the ANU has been Queanbeyan-based company EOS, who has been working out of Stromlo to monitor space junk in danger of destroying satellite communications.

EOS chief executive Ben Greene said the world-leading company would contribute market intelligence and global networking to the partnership, and said Australia needs to capitalise on its expertise in the field.

Space engirdles the whole earth, so anything we do here has got to reach out to the whole world. That’s where the great, enormous opportunities are for Australia.

Professor Matthew Colless, ANU

“Not only can we get more out of it, we have to. We have to because in this country this very important industry is composed mainly of SMEs, and individually they just can’t compete in this global marketplace. So collaborations and partnerships are the stuff that the future is made of,” he said.

Professor Colless said it wasn’t all laser beams, giant telescopes, and space junk – the sector also brought wide daily applications, from GPS tracking in smartphones, to mapping of climate change.

He said he did not know if the program would be supported under a Liberal government, but said he hoped it would go ahead “no matter what happens in the election”.