Canberra: proudly Australia’s space capital

Posted 26 Sep 2017

Story by CBR Canberra

Did you know Canberra’s capability in the space industry is leading the country?

With infrastructure and skills that set us apart, Canberra boasts world-class facilities; access to a large, highly technical and scientific workforce; proximity to top-ranked universities and research institutions as well as business organisations and resources designed to encourage industry growth.

Canberra Buildings

The characteristics that make the space industry so unique in Canberra are the same characteristics that promise rewarding careers in virtually any industry in Canberra.

You’d be forgiven for hearing the word “space” and conjuring up the image of humans travelling to Mars, but the scale of activity actually ranges from venturing beyond our solar system to the ability to get directions using a mobile phone.

In fact, space and spatial sciences are used by every Australian industry sector including agriculture, defence, insurance, cyber security, banking, timing and positioning services, resources, security, emergency services, broadcast and telecommunications.

Space-derived data and services such as satellite communications, earth observation images and position and navigation services have become essential elements of modern society. As Canberran Brett Biddington, Chief Executive of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) taking place in Adelaide this week, notes, “secure and assured access is fundamental to the way the world works; without it, the world stops.”

For Brett, the link between Canberra and the emerging Australian spatial industry is “inextricable.”

“In Canberra, there is infrastructure that is unique to the country,” Brett says. He talks about UNSW Canberra and Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) working with small satellites and teaching service personnel about the scientific and engineering challenges of space as just one example of how Canberra is leading the way.

There’s also Mount Stromlo’s Space Environment Research Centre (SERC) and their ground breaking research into space debris; the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre (AITC), providing  increased capability for Australia in the development of high performance instrumentation of small spacecraft as well as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, a NASA site at Tidbinbilla which contributes to NASA’s exploration of space, from Canberra.

As well as the infrastructure, Brett says there are some cultural advantages that are helping the industry flourish in the capital, not least the fact that Canberra is the centre of government.

“Space is a national and therefore an international issue, and Canberra is playing a leadership role. There’s the commitment and the community here,” he says.

While the future of the industry in Canberra is bright, the role that our city has played in shaping the industry in Australia is something to be proud of. Here are our highlights:

1911 – The first federal building constructed on the newly named site for the nation’s capital was a building to house the Oddie telescope on our very own Mount Stromlo.

1924 – The Commonwealth Solar Observatory established up on Mount Stromlo (later to become the Commonwealth Observatory).

1946 – The Australian National University is established (and yes, that wasn’t just good for the space industry!)

1960s – NASA construction and operation of Honeysuckle Creek, Orroral Valley and Tidbinbilla tracking stations guide and support the first moon landing and other Apollo missions.

1987 – Australia’s first high-end computing infrastructure and services established to support critical research established at ANU.

2007 – Establishment of the National Computational Infrastructure and the Southern Hemisphere’s most highly integrated supercomputing and data facility based in Canberra.

2009 – World’s first roll out of the fastest digital subscriber line DSL broadband technology commercially available to enable a fibre optic connected city.

2010 – CSIRO takes on operational management of the Deep Space Communication Complex providing mission critical support to Mars, Pluto and other deep space missions.

2011 – Nobel Prize in Physics jointly awarded to ANU astronomer and Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt for work on the accelerating expansion of the universe.

2016 – Drive to establish an Australian Space Innovation Cluster to grow the potential and yield of the industry in Australia.

2017 – ACT, South Australia and Northern Territory governments sign a joint effort Memorandum of Understanding to advocate for an Australian National Space Agency.

With an impressive past and an exciting future, it’s clear Australia has the capacity to play an even greater role in the Global Space Economy; and you can bet Canberra will be leading the way.