Top Australian government officials, representatives of the Australian Space Agency and entrepreneurs expressed interest towards an active bilateral cooperation with India in the Space sector. This gains significance given how Australia is planning on tripling its Space Economy by 2030 and India’s recent reforms to permit end-to-end private participation in space activities, besides the ongoing plan to permit Foreign Direct Investment in the Space sector. In a discussion facilitated by the Confederation of Indian Industry, top officials from the Indian and Australian Space agencies and industry representatives discussed the ‘Commercial Opportunities across the Aus-India Space Ecosystem’.
Speaking at the event, Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell AO, said he wanted to see Australian and Indian firms partner and grow together. He welcomed India’s planned revisions to FDI norms in the space sector, saying “this could be a real game-changer for bilateral commercial space collaboration”. On Australia’s advantages, he said “our geographical position in the southern hemisphere, wide-open spaces and relatively low light pollution, make us a natural partner for India. We also have expertise to offer in satellite tech, earth observation, leapfrog R&D, comms, robotics and remote asset management”. He also recalled the Ind-Aus cooperation in space, which dates back to 1987.
Sreerekha, Assistant Scientific Secretary, ISRO, said that ISRO was in the process of bringing out Industry-friendly policies and also assured that the Draft policy would be made available for public consultation. Regarding the FDI Policy for space, she added that it would soon be made available, thus enabling foreign firms to invest in all areas of space.
According to Karl Rodrigues, an official of the Australian Space Agency, it was projected that the Australian Space Economy would see a three-fold growth to $12bn by 2030 and employ as many as 20,000 people. He also said that Australia would be returning to space by performing commercial rocket launches and also via collaborative missions to put Australian satellites in lunar orbit or probes on the lunar surface.
Though Australia has been involved in space activities for a long time, it is notable that the Australian Space Agency was established barely three years ago and they don’t yet have a standalone, independent space-faring programme. So far, they have been collaborating with and supporting other agencies and countries to jointly perform missions. However, Peter Williams, of Southern Launch said that the Australian government recently approved the first commercial rocket launch from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex, of their company. “This is an important outcome in establishing Australia’s commercial launch capability and demonstrating what our country can offer international rocket manufacturers and their payload customers” he added.
Indian entrepreneur Awais Ahmed, CEO, Pixxel mentioned about the prospects of their constellation of Hyperspectral imaging satellites that could collect vast amounts of data, which can be used for studying agriculture, pest infestation, emissions, impact on forests etc. “Pixxel was looking at Australia to further expand its global network, and explore partnerships with Australian data application providers to help develop a user-friendly interface for end-users in the agricultural and mining sectors” he added.
When asked about the reasons why Indian firms had to invest in Australia, given the low costs at home and high-costs in Australia, an Australian representative acknowledged the cost advantage in India and also pointed out their country’s capability in terms of processes, systems engineering, components, robotics, optical technologies, laser, AI etc. “There are a lot of complementary skills and talent, Aus-India can work together for developing low-cost and high-performance systems and even joint missions” it was added.
Entrepreneurs from India and Australia agreed that, given the high investment in developing space capabilities, the respective Governments had to provide access to capital, which would enable more innovation and foster an ecosystem for Space technology.