Time is running out for the states and territories to make their case to house the new Australian Space Agency, as the organisation "hits the ground running" in its efforts to spruik the country's space credentials internationally.
The Canberra Times spoke to Australian Space Agency deputy head Anthony Murfett three months on from its creation to find out how the agency is taking shape.
The agency's mission is to triple the size of the Australian space industry and create up to 20,000 new jobs.
It's a vastly leaner operation than other government space agencies like NASA or the European Space Agency.
"We can’t really directly compare ourselves to NASA or the European Space Agency because they’re very unique things where our role is being the most industry-focused," Mr Murfett said.
"That being said there’s this real transition from agencies now realising the importance of partnering with business, so the UK and Canada are now sort of following a similar trajectory to us."
The agency is currently made up of about 20 people pulled from different parts of government - the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Prime Minister and Cabinet, CSIRO, Austrade and even the Royal Australian Air Force.
Mr Murfett said this team is more of a taskforce to get the agency running while recruitment for permanent staff is underway.
"We’ve really hit the ground running, working with that dynamic group of people ... while there’s only 20 of us we can achieve great things," Mr Murfett said.
The agency recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the French space agency, CNES, at the start of the month to collaborate on space programs, and has been in talks with the United State about NASA's plans for a manned international space station orbiting the moon.
Their focus right now is finalising an investment plan for the agency, a charter for how it will operate, and the all-important question about where it will be based, Mr Murfett said.
That permanent location has been the subject of much posturing by the states and territories.
The ACT has launched a prospectus on why the agency's headquarters should remain in Canberra - the fledging industry is currently working from the Department of Industry's Civic offices - and environment, planning and police minister Mick Gentleman was given the lofty title of "Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Advanced Technology and Space Industries" in the recent cabinet reshuffle.
But the ACT is not the jurisdiction with its sights set on the stars.
Queensland has launched a parliamentary inquiry to explore how the state could become the home of research, design and manufacturing for Australia's future space needs, with State Development Minister Cameron Dick saying he was lobbying hard to attract as much activity from the new agency as possible.
Mr Murfett said they would hand government their recommendations by the end of this year, and wouldn't comment on whether there were any frontrunners.
“There’s great enthusiasm for Australia’s space agency so we’ve been working closely with all our state and territory colleagues, [space agency chief Dr Megan Clark] has reached out and spoken to all first ministers and I think what we’re seeing is there’s great capability across the whole of Australia," Mr Murfett said.
Mr Murfett said while some argued Australia's late entry to the international space agency was a mark against us, he believed the fact we were "unencumbered" was a bonus.
“Some people would say we’re late to the party but I think as we’re seeing this real transition from what was once the domain of government, then we’re seeing this opportunity for business, I think the advantage we have is we’re not constrained by existing organisations or bureaucracy in place," Mr Murfett said.
Even when the new agency is fully established, it appears unlikely it will be a large operation.
Asked what the agency would look like in a year, Mr Murfett said it would still be the "nimble" organisation it is today.
"One of the important things we say is we’re going to be one of the most industry-focused space agencies, it’s about how do we be a partner and facilitator to grow our space industry," Mr Murfett said.
Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research director Andrew Dempster said while the agency was developing in a way that was appropriate for Australia, it remained to be seen whether the resources for the agency were adequate.
"In themselves - tens of millions of dollars - they are not because serious programs need to be funded, not just space programs, but business development, education etcetera, but if the agency is used to facilitate other programs, such as the space-based augmentation system - around $150 million - also funded in the budget, then it may serve its purpose," he said.
Professor Dempster said the spat between states over location was "annoying and depressing" after all the work the community put in to get the agency up.
"An ideal solution would be for any state that wants to host it, they should host a node, so the strengths of all states are encouraged," Professor Dempster said.
Flinders University senior lecturer in archaeology and space studies Dr Alice Gorman said the fact the Australian agency was positioning itself as industry-led was a positive.
"We don’t have any of the billionaire space entrepreneurs such as you see in the US, whose growing power over future space directions is a concern to some," Dr Gorman said.
"From my experience, most people in the Australian space industry are as committed to education, inspiration and furthering the public good as they are to making a profit from space. The agency has also articulated its commitment to these goals, so there is a good balance in my opinion."
Dr Gorman said because the Australian Space Agency has been created in an age dominated by commercial space exploration rather than "Cold War-era national prestige", it has a "clean slate" and can be more adaptable than some of the legacy agencies.
UNSW Canberra military space bioethicist Reverend Doctor Nikki Coleman said she had been "exceedingly concerned" about the funding level and focus of the agency until she met with its head Dr Megan Clark.
Dr Coleman has previously expressed fears space could become the wild west is commercial space operators choose to ignore laws laid down by nations like Australia.
"I am concerned the agency is narrowly focused however Dr Clark was very good at seeing why ethics is important. If anyone can guide this process with limited resources I think she can," Dr Coleman said.
"Space ethics is one of the areas Australia is leading the world in and one of the great advantages of that is we can make a big difference in international decisions around the use of space now we have a space agency."