Space to Grow

- January 2023

Parbery has been privileged to be one of several firms supporting Defence Space Command during its establishment in 2022. Parbery Principal Consultant Brendhan Egan reflects upon the influence of Space in his lifetime and the exciting future unfolding in this domain.

I grew up a child of the Space Age, born in the 1960s with one of my earliest memories being watching the Apollo 11 landing on our first black and white TV set up on our dining room table. The significance of the event reinforced by my mother talking excitedly on the phone with friends and relatives while astronauts bounced around on the small screen.

Several years later I remember Apollo astronauts from later missions visiting my primary school in Canberra (likely owing to a number of my classmates having parents in senior roles at the nearby Tidbinbilla, Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley NASA tracking stations). The clean cut politely spoken astronauts were probably the first Americans I had seen in person, and they left quite an impression.

Space has connected with my working career at different times also. While working for the Australian Parliament I got to know the late Tom Reid through my work in the Parliamentary Relations Office supporting his spouse and then Senate President and Senator for Canberra, the Hon Margaret Reid. Tom had been the head of NASA’s Canberra operations during the Apollo Program and was a great character. Later with Austrade and Defence I met on several occasions with Dr Paul Scully-Power, Australia’s first astronaut – another fascinating character and expert adviser to government and industry on Defence, technology and Space.

My primary school classmates and I in the early 1970s were convinced that we would all get to space and visit the moon as this would become common place in the following years. We were clearly quite wrong about that although perhaps our grandchildren may see something like these aspirations realised with momentum in space on the cusp of another “giant leap”.

We have already embarked on the next world revolution. We are about to witness the biggest technology revolution since electricity was introduced. For Space 1.0 over the past 62 years has all been about “up there,” whether that be satellites, humans, or exploration. We have now entered Space2.0 — Space “down here.” It will totally revolutionise the way we live, communicate, and feed ourselves.
Dr Paul Scully-Power AM[1]

The rapid technology development of the last two decades in the online world (I still remember the first time I opened a web-browser in the late 1990s), is on the cusp of being mirrored and exceeded by Space-based technology. In just one example of the changes coming, Starlink satellites are already offering competitive, super-fast broadband and can provide this pretty much anywhere on Earth. Within a few years this and other nanosatellite technology developments are set to replace all other modes of online access. The benefits to Australia given our traditional challenges of distance and remoteness cannot be understated.

This is only the beginning of revolutionary changes that Scully-Power notes will come from nanosatellites, saying they will transform farming, power generation and water resource management in Australia, and linked to artificial intelligence will enable the internet of things, robotics, driverless cars and numerous other advances.

In other areas of Space technology, the cost of getting into space and beyond has been coming down dramatically through the involvement of commercial players such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and others. Humans are about to return to the moon through the Artemis mission and a new space race has commenced, in part driven by the super-power rivalry that led the first space race but with the added momentum of potential commercial gains from what we might find out there.

Australia’s geography and location has always been of interest in the Space domain. However, what is different this time around is that we will be going beyond hosting facilities of other nations, such as the NASA ones near Canberra, to having our own sovereign space capabilities. Australia is planning for its own lunar mission involving a rover and is also looking to send its own astronauts into orbit. The Australian Space Agency is up and running and we also have our own space industry developing rapidly.

If there is a downside in the Space revolution it is that we have a significant growing challenge to protect critical national infrastructure under-pinning our economy and society. A key challenge with the Space domain (like cyberspace with which it is integral), is that it is extra-territorial. While defending land, air and sea is challenging enough for Australia with our size and relatively small population, at least there are defined boundaries of what is our sovereign area. What sits in Space above Australia is not legally “ours” and what affects us in Space goes beyond what is directly above us. International cooperation to protect Space is therefore vital, but we also need our own capability in this area.

The Australian Government is meeting the challenge of Defence in the Space Domain through the establishment of Defence Space Command, officially stood up in early 2022 under the leadership of Air Vice-Marshall Cath Roberts, AO, CSC, and the release of a Defence Space Strategy to set the trajectory for Defence Space efforts to 2040.

There is no question that exciting times lie just around the corner for Space and Australia in this domain. But we will also have a lot more to protect as a result. For Parbery to be involved in this, even in a small way, is a great privilege.

[1] Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 153, part 1, 2020