Calls for APS to improve space literacy

By Shannon Jenkins

May 27, 2021

(Image: Adobe/vchalup)

Australian Public Service staff should undergo space literacy training to ensure Australia keeps up with technological and geopolitical developments in the sector, according to a new report.

In a Policy Options Paper released by the National Security College on Thursday, Dr Cassandra Steer has warned that policymakers risk underestimating the safety and security challenges of space, including its increasingly ‘congested, contested and competitive’ state.

“Low space literacy echoes the way in which policymakers’ understanding of the cyber threat landscape has lagged technological and geopolitical developments,” she wrote.

“Australia cannot wait ten years for government space literacy to catch up to reality. Strategic missteps in space policy today will have cascading negative consequences for Australia’s prosperity and security.”

The report has called for the Department of Defence, the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to invest in space literacy training for APS staff, to ‘ensure smart and harmonised policy’.

This, the report said, should align with the training needed to support the Australian Space Agency’s (ASA) goal of creating 20,000 jobs in the space sector.

The Industry and Defence departments should co-lead this effort, with input from universities on ‘delivering bespoke national training and education for their own employees, and those of other departments’. Meanwhile, Education should invest in the university sector to support new courses and training in space studies.

“Our competitiveness and global impact in the space sector require a wide range of interdisciplinary skillsets and a sophisticated understanding of how many issues connect,” the report said.

READ MORE: ADF space command is the right next step for Australian space power

The report noted that roles and responsibilities between government portfolios must be clearly mapped.

“More coordination on space issues across government would also enable a publicly available space diplomatic strategy, which could in turn strengthen Australia’s global impact as a space player,” it said.

Steer has recommended that the commonwealth appoint an ambassador for space within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and recruit more personnel to support space diplomacy missions.

“An appropriately resourced space ambassador with a dedicated team would be better positioned to influence the space agenda at multilateral fora, and engage with the global space industry,” she wrote.

“A better-resourced space diplomacy capacity would equip Australia to shape international norms and governance systems, both for security and civil space issues. It could also contribute to a space policy network in South East Asia and with key Pacific partners.”

READ MORE: CSIRO, NSW government back new space startup

In light of China, Russia and the United States rejecting the ‘strategic restraint that kept space a stable political and military domain’, Australia should be careful to not contribute to the ‘escalatory rhetoric’, the report warned.

It noted that the US has even taken the policy position that space is a ‘warfighting domain’, in its 2020 Defense Space Strategy.

“This sends a deliberate signal to peer competitors that any terrestrial conflict can be taken into space, or that conflict can even begin in space,” the report said.

“Yet whereas the US has capabilities to counter threats in space, it is unrealistic for Australia to try to match the major powers in this way. It is also unwise to contribute to the current destabilisation of space security by adopting provocative language, which would signal to China (in particular) that Australia is ready to take a conflict to space.”

Steer has recommended that the Defence department reject the notion of space as a ‘warfighting domain’ and instead designate it as an ‘operational domain’, in line with the NATO space strategy and Five Eyes partners.

READ MORE: Inquiry hears from Australia’s first astronaut on space technology and the space industry


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