Budget 2018: Space push, location tech boost

Government earmarks funding for Australian space agency

The 2018-19 budget reveals details of the government’s funding for its efforts to promote a domestic space industry as well as new initiatives intended to boost Australian businesses access to location technology, including better GPS performance.

The government will spend $26 million over four years beginning in 2018-19 for the launch of a National Space Agency. The government in September last year first detailed the plan to further cultivate a domestic space industry, including the development of the agency.

The announcement came on the back of a review of Australia’s space industry capability, led by former CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark. The government received the final report from the review in March 2018 but has yet to release it.

The budget includes $15 million over three years, beginning in 2019-20, for the International Space Investment project. The project “will provide grants to strategic space projects that generate employment and business opportunities for Australians,” budget documents state.

“Space technologies are not just about taking people to the moon, they underpin the long-term competitiveness of many other industries, including communication, agriculture, mining, oil and gas,” said a statement released by jobs and innovation minister Senator Michaelia Cash.

“This year’s federal budget is the first ever budget to include funding for an Australian space agency,” said Flavia Tata Nardini, the CEO of Adelaide-based startup Fleet Space Technologies.

“This is huge. This is the moment that everything changes. In 20 years’ time, we will be looking back and pinpointing this period as one of the most transformational in Australian history.”

Tat Nardini’s company aims launch its own network of low-earth-orbit nano-satellites. The satellite fleet will provide communications for gateway devices that gather data from Internet of Things devices.

“Whether we realise it or not, space technology is a huge part of our daily lives,” the CEO said. “The Australian space industry will touch the lives of each and every Australian, giving us the chance to play a growing role in this critical industry.”

The government also revealed that it would inject more than a quarter of a billion dollars into positioning technology.

“We rely on satellite and GPS technology for just about every aspect of our lives — from Google Maps on our individual phones, through to air traffic control at the busiest airports,” said Senator Matt Canavan, the minister for resources and northern Australia.

“More precise technology will make Australian businesses more productive, safer and more efficient.”

The government will fund a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) as well as invest in the National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC) to complement SBAS.

The budget earmarks $160.9 million over four years from 2018-19, as well as $39.2 million in ongoing funding from 2022-23, for the SBAS initiative to boost GPS accuracy through “comprehensive positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data to an accuracy of 10 centimetres across all of Australia and its maritime zones,” including parts of Australia that have no mobile phone coverage.

In addition, $64 million over four years, and $11.7 million in ongoing funding from 2022-23, will be used to deliver PNT data with a 3-5cm accuracy in regional and metropolitan areas that have mobile phone coverage as part of the NPIC measure.

“This measure will reduce barriers to accessing and using PNT data, allowing Australian businesses to maintain their competitive advantage in industries such as agriculture and resources, and in emerging sectors such as automated transport,” budget documents state.

The funding follows the launch late last year of a joint Australia-New Zealand SBAS trial which built on the government’s decision earlier in 2017 to fund an SBAS technology testbed.

The SBAS push has focused on the potential of GPS-augmenting technologies across the areas of agriculture, aviation, construction, maritime, mining, rail, road, spatial, and utilities.

The government also revealed funding to provide better access to satellite data through the Digital Earth Australia program. The budget earmarks $36.9 million over three years beginning in 2019-20, as well as $12.8 million in ongoing funding, for the program.

“The practical benefits of this investment will extend across our economy,” Canavan said in a statement.

“This data will help researchers, governments and business better understand environmental changes, such as coastal erosion, crop growth and water quality

“For example, information drawn from satellites is vital to help graziers increase the capacity of paddocks and make their farms more viable and sustainable.

“Our investment in satellite imagery will ensure a range of Australian industries have access to data that can help them tailor their investments, create jobs in target regions and increase their competitiveness,” the minister said.

The budget also included a previously announced $70 million funding boost for the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

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