‘One giant leap’ for Queensland in the private space race

Published:18 June 2020

Professor Steven Moore with astronaut and commander of Expedition 43 Terry Virts, after post-flight testing at Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2015.

SpaceX’s historic launch marked a major milestone for the future of private space travel, however, Australia is following in Musk’s footsteps with plans to become an industry leader in space technologies and launches.

According to CQUniversity’s Deputy Dean of Research Professor Steven Moore, Queensland could soon be a regional rocket hub with support from the state’s government, commercial businesses, and CQUni’s Mackay campus.

“We have been working with Regional Development Australia, the Whitsunday, Mackay and Isaac Regional Councils, The Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation and Gold-Coast based rocket manufacturer Gilmour Space on Launch Whitsunday, a commercial satellite launch complex in the Abbot Point State Development Area near Bowen,” Prof Moore said.

“One of the biggest gaps Australia has in the space industry in comparison to the U.S. is not having a commercial launch facility. If this proposal goes ahead all the different satellite and rocket companies around Australia and the world will be able to utilise the complex.”

The ability to capitalise on Queensland’s existing industry and power of place make for a competitive proposition for the commercial space industry. An original white paper written by Professor Moore outlined the geographical, climate and financial benefits of a launch site within the regional footprint.

“The Bowen region of Queensland is an excellent location for a launch base, being only 20 degrees south of the equator rockets can harness the earth’s rotation to slingshot eastward to achieve both equatorial and polar orbits with less fuel.

“The dry subtropical climate is ideal, and the region has considerable manufacturing and transport infrastructure, and the state development area around Abbot Point has plenty of space to ensure a safe buffer zone around the launch site,” Prof Moore said.

“Additionally, Queensland is in a fortunate position to receive government support for space industry advancement. In February the State government released the Queensland Space Industry Strategy 2020-2025 and plans to contribute an $8M investment to the scheme.

“The state government has a plan for our economic recovery post-COVID-19 and space is an important part of the economy as we move forward. The space industry could create up to 6000 new high-value jobs for Queenslanders,” he said.

For the next generation of Australian kids who have dreamed of a career in the space industry, this could soon be a possibility. Professor Moore has even proposed that CQUni develop a research centre at the Mackay Ooralea campus.

“This would cover satellite development, communications, remote sensing applications as well as leveraging interest in space for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education.

“This opens a lot of doors for future careers in the industry. Current CQUni courses ranging from STEM-focused programs such as engineering, ICT, agriculture, environmental science to business, law and even tourism can incorporate space-related themes to build on the interest and excitement a Queensland-based space program would generate.”

The space sector provides opportunities across multiple disciplines research in health care a top priority to support astronaut's wellbeing. Professor Moore’s work for the Australian Academy of Science involved a decadal plan for space life science research for the Australian Space Agency (ASA) with a focus on quality distance health care.

“The draft plan is ready for review by ASA and one of the key recommendations is that Australia leverages its considerable expertise in rural and remote health care to develop methodologies to support astronauts on long-duration missions.”

The future of the space industry will continue to grow with the worlds demand for satellite services. As we continue to embed technology into everyday practices there will be an ever-increasing demand for big data.

“This big data helps us to live and work more efficiently. The capacity to launch, build and control satellite for Earth observation data can be used in agriculture, mining, transport, logistics, the environment, urban and social issues and monitoring sustainable development goals.

“With the growing impacts of climate change and emerging novel viruses such as COVID-19, it is essential that Australia develop a capacity to monitor our landmass and the surrounding oceans through an active space program.”