NASA remains the most well-known space agency, many countries are now establishing their own national agency, highlighting the rising importance and role the space sector plays in the global job market and economy. While space-related industries still exist and thrive in countries without formal space agencies, having one helps guide how that country can benefit from space, coordinate activities, and establish formal relationships with other nations' agencies.
If you are an engineer interested in deep space communication or rocketry, you may be interested in these two newly established space agencies in Oceania.
The Australian Space Agency: Building on Long-Standing History
Australia has a long and involved history in global space activities. Beginning in the 1940s, the Woomera Rocket Range would be the location of sub-orbital and sounding rocket testing, leading to the production of Australia’s first sounding rocket, the "Long Tom" (so called because of its resemblance to the long needlefish of the same name).
Australia has also acted as a launching port for satellites but ceased launching activities in 1971. Since then, the country has become home to a number of tracking stations for satellites and deep space missions, including part of the Deep Space Network which has been used for missions like Cassini and Curiosity. Other areas Australia has thrived in include space science, and also is home to a number of small space startups.
Image courtesy of NASA JPL.
Today, Australia still doesn’t have a space agency—yet. In September, however, it announced plans to establish one during the International Astronautical Congress—one of the longest-running and largest space conferences in the world. In 2017, Australia remained one of two OECD countries without a space agency (the other being Iceland). A review of Australia’s industrial capabilities, as well as details on the organization and structure of the pending agency, are expected to be released in March 2018.
Interestingly, when the European Space Agency was established, membership was offered to Australia. Australia declined, possibly believing the endeavor to be too expensive at the time. Despite not being a European country, ESA does host non-European members including Canada which is considered an "associate member". This still allows these countries to benefit from participation on ESA missions and gives its citizens opportunities to work on European projects. The Director General of ESA, Jan Woerner, has been quoted as saying that Australia would be welcome to join ESA.
New Zealand: Focusing on a Niche Launching Market
New Zealand established its space agency in 2016 and rapidly got to work on positioning itself to capitalize on economic benefits of space activities. In particular, there is an interest in becoming an active spaceport, with launching capabilities focusing on an increasingly popular but niche area: small satellites.
New Zealand subsidiary, Rocket Lab, began testing its Electron rocket earlier this year, and already has customers like Moon Express, NASA, Planet, and Spire Global planning to use their services. The company plans on using disposable carbon fiber rockets with electronic engines that are 3D-printed. Their current rocket can carry a payload of 150 kilograms, with each launch costing around $5 million.
Historically, countries with launching capabilities has been a fairly exclusive club. The New Zealand government has been quick to facilitate the creation of a space agency to help regulate and oversee the launching activities of Rocket Lab.
The company plans on launching its first payload this December.