Star Trekking Across the Universe

Rob Bell

Issue 12, June 2018

Australia is getting its very own space program! What an amazing thing that will be!

We’re always excited to hear about innovation in the tech-space, and it doesn’t get much more techy than, well... SPACE!

There are over 70 different Government-based space programs around the world (although only a few of those have launch capability).

Australia has played pivotal roles in various space-bound activities, including launching rockets. Yes, that’s right, this isn’t actually the first time we’ve done this! We probably just forgot how or why, or moved on to digging large holes in the ground instead. Fair enough! However we’ve never had our very own space agency - until now!

Whatever it is about space, this seed funding is (hopefully) going to springboard a host of new adventures into the final frontier, and open the door for loads of new technologies.

Now we’re not about to find ourselves with “The Great Space Station Down Under” or anything. To compare our meagre $50M to other space ventures happening around the world, it’s basically lunch money.


We found the most consistent funding numbers for space programs from 2014 budgets, so we’ll use that as a basis of comparison. All numbers are quoted in billions, converted to Australian dollars and approximated for clarity. I’ll be honest and say we took only a quick look to confirm these numbers, but even if they’re out by a margin, they still provide the context we’re looking for.

It’s difficult to look at costs for private companies the same way; however SpaceX (Elon Musk), Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos), and a multitude of other ventures are spending billions of dollars each year undertaking massive R&D projects, with some of that deficit made up by large contracts for satellite launches and such. However some of these private companies are rapidly outpacing many leading countries in terms of their size, scale, and even capabilities.

It may sound like I’m discounting what the Australian Government is doing, but I assure you I’m not. Yes, comparative to international efforts it looks a little lacklustre, but so too does comparing Australia’s GDP to India. For simplicity let’s say India’s GDP is twice that of Australia (depending on where you look, you’ll still arrive near this number). If we were to match their spend as a multiple of GDP, we should be spending in the order of $700M. However, we all have to start somewhere, and $50M is better than $0, no matter which way you dice it!


What this seed money will effectively enable, is infrastructure, a process, perhaps also inspiration for Aussie entrepreneurs to think BIG in terms of their ideas. Who cares about international expansion when INTERSTELLAR EXPANSION is on the cards? The first electronics magazine in space? Or the moon? Or Mars? We could get behind that!

Since the 1950s, space has captivated imaginations. The major difference is, fast forwarding 60 years or so since NASA’s formation, technology is now at everyone’s fingertips; a Raspberry Pi has more computing power than the Apollo missions, technology has evolved into lighter and more robust packages, and it’s all accessible to just about anyone!


I was talking with a number of people the other day, about how poor the internet access is on the main train line between the Central Coast of NSW, and Sydney CBD. This is about a one-hour train ride, and a great time for people to catch up on emails, or chill out watching Netflix after a long day at the office. However, with a poor internet connection, even low-bandwidth functionality (such as instant messaging or email) can become a substantial challenge. As someone who used to take a one or more hour daily commute (each way) to work, I know how frustrating that can feel. However, it’s been some 10 years or so since I’ve done it with any degree of regularity. Back then we were using phones for calls more than surfing the web, but the problem was the same.

Proposed in various instances, and briefly touched on in a previous Moonshots, there are several ideas floating around for global broadband using a satellite network. But perhaps it won’t be global. Perhaps it will simply be a great way to roll out broadband to an entire country such as ours, which is vast and without dense population outside of major metropolitan areas.

Maybe a network of nano satellites is purely a great way to solve the rollout problems for our National Broadband Network. Once in place, it would provide instant broadband services to even the most remote areas, where typical hardwired “installation” involves kilometres of new fibre cable. The ultra high satellite altitudes do create a few challenges of their own (latency for one), but they also avoid topographical challenges mobile phones can have difficulty with.

Of course this solution is unlikely to be government backed. It is more likely to emerge as a private venture, spawned from an idea of putting things into space, right here in Australia.

What gets me truly excited however, is that we don’t yet know what the best use will be for our Aussie Space Agency. That amazing idea is yet to come! Let’s just hope we don’t put rocket-naming to a public vote or we might see the launch of Rocko McRocketFace. Then again, it embodies our Aussie culture of not taking things too seriously, so perhaps it is perfect after all!