One of the only, but glaringly, unfortunate consequences of the recent Australian space agency announcement is that all states and territories have been pitted against each other as it’s been suggested they compete for the location of the agency headquarters.

What was, until last week, a fantastic demonstration of national cohesion and collaboration within the Australian space community, has very quickly turned into an unnecessary competition. Calls for an Australian space agency coming from a place of abundance and untold opportunity have morphed into, “the only logical state to host an Australian space industry is mine for x, y and z reasons”.

This is not the way to be looking at the next stages of Australia’s space industry development.

It would be a pity for such an inspirational milestone in the nation’s history to be confined to one state, especially when many states already have the components for thriving space industries themselves. I believe that each state within the federation will be better positioned to look at their strengths as a participant within the international space industry, and to work with each other as a cohesive whole as the strengths of each state — the boats — are lifted by the rising tide.

Australia is big. Does it make sense for a space industry to be focused in one area?

An Aussie Launch Pad

From July 1, 2018, the Agency will commence operations. Led by Dr Megan Clark, the interim space boss will begin to develop the business model for a modern, industry-focused agency from neutral ground of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

In year 1, the agency will have a $5.7 million budget, a portion of the $26 million seed funding allocation for the 4 year development exercise. Not enough for a headquarters in multiple locations, but enough to stay lean and iteratively build a functional and valuable model as we do with modern startups.

At a bare minimum, it makes sense for a national agency to have its headquarters within the nation’s capital and close to foreign embassies. That said, each state and territory has significant strong points and reasons to have a direct connection with the Agency, especially when it can facilitate interstate collaboration and a much more fruitful national industry.

Only with nationwide collaboration will Australia’s space industry finally be able to stand a chance.

South Australia

South Australia has been making a strong case to be the ‘space state’ for a while now. Currently accepted as the ‘defence state’, with a large defence industry capability, it is a natural bridge into a space industry which has a lot of technological cross-over.

One point of the new Australian space industry which hasn’t been made clear yet is what balance there will be between civilian space and military space activity and support. If we assume that a good balance is a simple even split, then South Australia has a strong case for a large portion of the industry — but it should not be the only supported state.

New South Wales

When the NSW government commissioned a report for their space agency review submission, they learned that they already have the largest space industry in the nation.

Until the NSW government submitted a bid this week to become the location for the Agency, they had not been very active in the national discussion. With this natural advantage, it’s hard to look past having a new federal agency that doesn’t take advantage of this fact.

Australian Capital Territory

The capital of Australia is already the temporary home of the Agency. It makes sense, as this is where all other federal agencies have headquarters, and the agency will be a large participant in foreign affairs and so should be close to the rest of Australia’s national leaders and other nation’s embassies.

Further to the obvious bureaucratic advantages of a continuous presence in the nation’s capital, ACT is home to many critical national and international space facilities: the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Center, Mt Stromlo Observatory, CSIRO Parkes Observatory, NASA’s Deep Space Communication Complex, and more.

Mt Stromlo Observatory in ACT. Source: Australian National University

Western Australia

WA and its capital city, Perth, are very far away from the rest of the country. Largely driven by a depressed mining economy, WA has been looking to become an innovation hot spot and to find a new niche.

It’s telling for two reasons that the official space agency announcement late last week was made in Perth, hosted at the offices of Woodside oil and gas. First, WA is also a state that has existing space heritage due to its unique position on the planet and its vast amounts of empty land. It hosts a large section of the globe-spanning Square Kilometer Array, a large phased-array radio telescope stretching from Western Australia to South Africa. It is also home to the European Space Agency’s New Norcia Deep Space Ground Station.

Secondly, Woodside has been working with NASA’s robotics technology in a special partnership to develop new applications useful under the sea and in the remote and harsh environments. Similarly, there is great interest from the international space technology community who are interested to access technology developed and owned by Australia’s innovative mining giants, to integrate it into spacecraft for various off-earth purposes.

Perth is also a city significantly closer to a larger portion of the world’s population and increasing space activity, compared to the eastern states. This includes powerful space nations such as India and China.

With nations such as Luxembourg and the USA turning their attention to the prospect of commercial space mining, an obvious choice for the future of WA would be to cultivate Perth into a thriving robotics and space mining innovation hub.


Until recently Victoria was a manufacturing hub for Australia. In recent decades, it had thriving aerospace and automotive manufacturing industries, both of which have since disappeared.

With a recent plan by the Victorian government to revitalise the Fishermans Bend precinct and the development of a new advanced engineering-focused campus by the University of Melbourne located there, there is great opportunity to create an international space manufacturing and spatial information systems innovation hub within walking distance from the centre of the second largest city of the nation.

Widely considered to be one of the strongest cities in the world for spatial information and geographical information system (GIS) research and development (due to the fact that Australia hasn’t had their own satellites to observe the earth, and so became very good at making gold from insufficient data sources), Victoria has a natural advantage in at least two critical areas of the global space industry.

Combine this with a high performing health research sector, and the growing areas of space tourism and bio-astronautics, Victoria has an opportunity to play a significant international role within the global space ecosystem.

Fishermans Bend, becoming an advanced engineering hub, is next to the Melbourne CBD


Queensland has the benefit of being both on the top end of Australia and being on the east coast where the majority of Australia’s population resides. Like South Australia, Queensland has an active defence industry, including a large presence by defence and aerospace companies like Boeing. In March an announcement was made of Queensland becoming the home of Boeing’s largest autonomous systems development program outside of the United States, with the state government intending for the state to become a “global aerospace powerhouse”. With such a large presence by any company comes a great number of supply chain startups and SMEs.

Queensland is also home to some of the most advanced hypersonics research, with the world-renowned Center of Hypersonics at the University of Queensland which conducts research and development in partnerships such as the Defence Science and Technology Group and the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

One of the most successful Australian space startups to date is Gilmour Space Technologies, which have numerous space-related ventures operating near the Gold Coast, the most important of which is a significant rocketry program.

Queensland makes a lot of sense for such companies given it’s proximity to potential Asian markets, as well as the potential for a launch facility close to the equator — as long as launch trajectories don’t jeopardise the Great Barrier Reef.

Gilmour Space are developing hybrid rocket systems in Queensland

Northern Territory

Like WA, the NT is also very far away from the population centres of Australia. Unlike other cities though, Darwin and the top end of NT are strategically positioned close to the equator, generally making it a perfect area for building a southern hemisphere launch facility for launch customers looking to put cargo into an equatorial orbit or to send cargo away from the earth.

This is because, at the equator, you have the extra advantage of extra speed as the earth rotates, meaning you can use smaller and cheaper rockets to get into orbit, to the moon, Mars, or beyond.

Equatorial Launch Australia is one company developing a rocket launch facility in Arnhem Land already. It is expected that, as the demand by Australia and neighbours in the Asia Pacific region look to access space more frequently, a space launch facility and its necessary supply chain organisations at the top of the NT could result in an economically powerful gateway to the cosmos akin to Cape Canaveral of Florida’s so-called Space Coast.


Space technology is unlikely to be a strong point for the south island of Australia. However, it is Australia’s closest point to Antarctica, and should Australia ever decide to host a major international collaboration to stage a full Mars colonisation simulation on an Antarctic oasis with conditions similar to Mars, then expect Tasmania to become a technological hub for advanced technology and research as humanity learns how to cope with the complexities of becoming a multi-planetary species, beyond the minute step of being capable of only launching people to the red planet.

Snow-less parts of Antarctica are the most similar locations on Earth to Mars. Source: Australian Antarctic Division

Bonus: Christmas Island

Did you know that Australia has a large launch facility on Christmas Island, an infamous Australian territory to the north-west of the main island, called the Asia Pacific Space Center? There have even been successful launches from there such as by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Don’t get too excited, though, because the facility, built in 2001, was never a financially sustainable endeavour and today is considered to be a poor location for a launch facility.