NASA will send an Australian-made rover in a future mission to the moon as early as 2026, with $50 million of federal government money being poured into the endeavour.
On Wednesday prime minister Scott Morrison announced that an agreement had been reached to see the Australian equipment involved in a NASA effort to support future missions to Mars.
“This is an incredible opportunity for Australia to succeed in the global space sector, and is central to our Government’s vision to secure more jobs and a larger share of the growing space economy,” Morrison said.
“By 2030, we want to triple the size of our space sector – adding $12 billion to our economy and creating up to 20,000 new, high-skilled jobs – providing more opportunities for Australians and industries.
The semi-autonomous rover will be responsible for collecting lunar soil, which contains oxides, and that NASA will then attempt to extract oxygen from. By doing so, the space agency hopes to ultimately work out how it can establish a sustainable human presence on the moon.
Subject to certain conditions being met to develop the rover, NASA could send the Australian to the moon within five years’ time.
Bill Nelson, a NASA administrator, said that the rover agreement would strengthen long-time relations between the United States and Australia in areas related to space exploration.
“[Our] relationship goes back more than half a century to the days of the Apollo program,” Nelson said.
“By working together with the Australian Space Agency and our partners around the world, NASA will uncover more discoveries and accomplish more research through the Artemis program.”
According to Australian space agency head Enrico Palermo, the mission is an opportunity to show the world the remote operations skills and experience of Aussie industry.
“This agreement will leverage our expertise in remote operations to grow our space sector here at home, while developments that come from preparing for space will make sure our resources sector keeps powering ahead too,” Palermo said.
The Australian government will support local businesses and researchers to develop the rover with money from a program named ‘trailblazer’ that is part of a government ‘moon to mars’ initiative.
Morrison added that the government had made an investment in excess of $700 million to the Australian civil space sector since July 2018. Much of this money went towards supporting core industries including manufacturing, robotics, engineering, mining and resources, he said.
“This mission to the moon is just one exciting way that we can create opportunity and jobs for the future, and our government will ensure Australians reap the benefits.”
Science and technology minister Melissa Price said that applications to receive funding via the trailblazer program would open early next year. She noted that the $50 million contribution of the LNP government to the project would allow the local sector to ‘contribute to NASA’s mission to the Moon and beyond’.
“[This mission] will build the Australian space sector’s capability and capacity and showcase Australia’s strengths to the world, as well as inspire a whole new generation of young people to enter careers in science, technology, engineering and maths,” Price said.