2017 is a huge year for Australia when it comes to space technology. So far two local space companies have raised $5m each from local investors. In the next month or so the federal government will finalise the review of our primary space legislation, the Space Activities Act 1998, and have just began a more significant 8 month review around the need for an Australian space agency. Furthermore, in September the world will be looking at Adelaide as space agencies and companies from around the globe converge for a week for the International Astronautical Congress.

What does it mean for Australia to have a space agency and a space industry, though? If you’re confused about the idea of your neighbour running a ‘space business’ like Gretel Killeen on the 7:30 Report recently (go to the 35 minute mark), then read on. In a time where there are many problems facing Australia, why are we talking about such fanciful things?

Queensland-based Gilmour Space Technologies test a new satellite propulsion system

For Australia, space isn’t as much about exploring the far reaches of our solar system and establishing human settlements on Mars as it is about Earth-orbiting satellites , which gather data and provide services that we use to help us here on earth. Many of us don’t realise just how much space technology impacts and enables our day-to-day lives: farmers rely on satellite data to grow crops so that you can buy your groceries from week to week, medical researchers conduct experiments in orbit to better understand human physiology and psychology and to create new medicines (or fight cancer), and we can keep an eye on things like illegal fishing, border security and even help firefighters in the field.

The most amazing part about all of this talk surrounding the new space industry (and all adjacent industries which greatly benefit) in Australia and around the globe is that private companies, not governments, are now shaping our collective space activity. With miniaturisation of technology, powerful satellites the size of a loaf of bread can be built in a garage with minimal funding. Since we’re starting to send these much smaller satellites into orbit, we can put them into lower orbits where they will crash into the atmosphere in a couple of years to be replaced by a newer, better version.

Space is being democratised and revolutionised — anyone can start their own space program for less than the cost of purchasing a fast-food franchise — and these rapidly developed and cheaper systems have lead to the creation of space based infrastructure that was not possible a few years ago by even the largest, well funded corporations or agencies.

This has led to a collection of new rocket companies, such as Rocket Lab in New Zealand/USA and Gilmour Space Technologies in Queensland, who are building ever smaller and cheaper rockets to cater for this new market of low earth orbit satellites. We are already attracting foreign companies to relocate to Australia due to favourable conditions, as is the case with Sky and Space Global (UK/Israel) and ARC Engines (US). As we see more private space companies looking beyond earth, like SpaceX and their vision for human settlements on Mars, we’re seeing many more companies and startups use space technology to look back and support us better here on Earth.

A room full of ‘astropreneures’ at a MoonshotX event in Perth, Australia

The space industry is undergoing a complete transformation with the creation of entirely new supply chains, many with links that extend far beyond aerospace and into adjacent industries such as agriculture, mining, finance and education. In Australia, we are proving to be very effective competitors on the hardware front, where we are building novel spacecraft propulsion systems and innovative constellations of satellites.The same is true on the software front, where we are perceived to be world leaders when it comes to processing satellite data into high quality information and operating ground stations on behalf of many of the world’s space agencies.

Saber Astronautics, an Australian space company, testing hardware on a zero gravity flight

We already livein a world where smartphone users are empowered with the capability to effortlessly do things which were in the realm of science fiction only a decade or so ago. For an extreme example, look at the Pokemon Go craze of 2016 — a game that is only made possible through the use of what is, at its core, a US military asset — the Global Positioning System (GPS) of 31+ satellites floating above the earth in concert.

In October this year, MoonshotX will be launching the second cohort of its space entrepreneurial development program, Gemini, across 15 cities in 5 countries — including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth here in Australia. Through MoonshotX we are accelerating the development of a larger, more efficient Australian space industry and creating the international links essential for a functional local industry within a global context.

The new space industry is forecast to be worth over $1 trillion by 2030, and we need to see Australia take a fair slice of that pie.