Canberra logical choice for space agency base
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Canberra logical choice for space agency base

Megan Clark, the former CSIRO boss chosen to head the Australian Space Agency, is to be congratulated for injecting the voice of reason into the debate over where the new body should be based.

"We need to engage internationally and also to co-ordinate nationally and part of that activity (is) best to be centred on Canberra," she said.

Dr Clark's blunt assessment comes as a timely wake-up call given interstate interests are already lining up to have the $50 million initiative installed on their turf.

NSW, the Northern Territory and South Australia all say they would make the best permanent base for the headquarters of the agency.

NSW premier, Glady's Berejiklian, wants ASA to be rolled into a defence and aerospace precinct to be known as "the Aerotopolis"; apparently an adjunct of the Badgery's Creek airport development.

"NSW has the dish (at Parkes) and we should be the home of space innovation," she said.

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The Parkes telescope, which is now 57-years-old, is a part of the CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility radio telescope network.

Dr Clark is just one of the many people who would be able to tell the NSW Premier the CSIRO is headquartered in the ACT, not Macquarie Street.

Ms Berejeklian, and the other state and territory politicians lining up to claim dibs on the agency, are taking a narrowly self-interested view that suggests they do not grasp its importance.

Space, to borrow the famous line from Star Trek, really is the final frontier. It is also potentially a highly lucrative one that, until recently, Australia has done little to capitalise on.

That is, in itself, a remarkable oversight given we were once at the cutting edge of rocketry research thanks to the British missile tests at Woomera in the 1950s and the pivotal role Australian observatories played in the Apollo missions.

The Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex is a joint CSIRO/NASA/JPL asset which will likely be essential to tracking future manned space flights to Mars.

While there is a great deal to be said for the new agency to be established along "hub and spoke" lines with operations centres around the country, Canberra is the most logical place for the head office.

NASA is headquartered in Washington because that is where the politicians, the money, and the corporate and political power bases are located.

The UK's Space Agency, which was established in 2010 for almost exactly the same reasons that have driven the Australian initiative, is based at Swindon, just 130km from the heart of London.

The Federal Government, despite a recent unhealthy obsession with outsourcing Canberra public service jobs to the regions, is already well aware of the logic that has driven the U.S. and U.K. decisions.

That is why it has ruled the agency will initially be "co-located" within the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in the ACT.

It makes sense to build on that decision. This will make it much easier to secure high quality recruits than if candidates faced the prospect of being relocated to Woomera, Narrabri, Boolardy, or even the outer reaches of Western Sydney at some point in the future.

The last thing the country needs is a repeat of the APVMA fiasco.