The Space Agency goes to... Adelaide

By Stephen Easton

December 12, 2018

South Australia has won the bidding war to host the Australian Space Agency’s headquarters on the site of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claims the new federal agency “will act as a launching pad to triple Australia’s space economy to $12 billion and create up to 20,000 jobs by 2030″ from a funding allocation of $41 million.

“This agency is part of our plan for a stronger economy for South Australia and the country which is about delivering long-term, high-wage, high-skills jobs,” Morrison said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with the federal government, industry and our education sector to capitalise on this incredible opportunity for our state,” added SA Premier Steven Marshall.

With elements of that industry widely distributed across the nation, state and territory governments all want to grow their share. The Commonwealth’s solution was to let them all make a case for hosting the HQ, setting off a blizzard of predictable space puns and parochial press statements from politicians in all jurisdictions, seeking to spruik the existing space-related industries and geographic advantages of their respective abodes.

The agency itself won’t be all that big, employing 20 full-time equivalent staff, but of course the hope is that new investment will gravitate towards it. It has already done a lot of work on its branding.

The federal opposition committed to a hub-and-spoke model with a head office in Canberra, which has a deep space tracking centre at Tidbinbilla, various relevant facilities on Mount Stromlo and leading researchers at the Australian National University. Innovation spokesman Senator Kim Carr also criticised the bidding war as counterproductive, while ACT politicians of both major parties said the capital was clearly the right choice.

The New South Wales premier drafted in Australia’s first astronaut Paul Scully-Power to lead its bid, claiming the state had 40% of the nation’s “space businesses” already and pointing to the Parkes radio telescope that starred in a movie alongside Sam Neill for good measure.

The Victorian government made strong claims that it could offer “the ideal home” for the ASA among its existing defence and space-related industry and research bodies.

The Western Australians wanted the agency headquarters too, and called in the consultants from ACIL Allen to produce a report arguing it had both the geographical advantages and an existing industry going back 60 years.

Proud proponents of Queensland and the Northern Territory focused on the advantages of launching rockets from closer to the equator — it takes less thrust to get them into orbit, meaning less fuel or a bigger payload.

In Brisbane, a parliamentary inquiry is looking at opportunities for roles Queenslanders can play and reporting February 28, while the NT government signalled its enthusiasm to be involved and signed an agreement with SA and the ACT.

Several Tasmanian academics and politicians also threw a hat in the ring for their state, particularly the relevant shadow minister Madeleine Ogilvie, noting their location had its advantages as well, with clear skies and the world’s southern-most radio telescope.

But Adelaide made “the strongest case” according to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews.

“South Australia is already home to more than 60 organisations and 800 employees in the space sector and this decision builds on the very strong technology and defence presence in the state,” she said, adding that the Commonwealth has promised $260m of funding for the development of “world leading satellite capabilities” including projects to improve GPS accuracy.

The decision is also tied into the federal government’s latest city deal, for Adelaide, which was cemented at the same time through a memorandum of understanding between the two governments. The Space Agency headquarters is part of a wider plan for redevelopment of the old hospital site.

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