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"The Australian space industry - does it have any future?"



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NATIONAL SPACE SYMPOSIUM

SYDNEY

22 March 1984

THE AUSTRALIAN SPACE INDUSTRY - DOES IT HAVE ANY FUTURE?"

Senator the Hon John N Button

Minister for Industry and Commerce

IT IS A PLEASURABLE, IF RISKY TASK TO BE SET TO-NIGHT, TO TRY

TO SAY WHETHER AN AUSTRALIAN SPACE INDUSTRY HAS ANY FUTURE.

PLEASURABLE, BECAUSE WE 'START WITH ALMOST A CLEAN SLATE, BUT

RISKY BECAUSE IT IS SO FUTURISTIC. USUALLY WHEN I AM ASKED

TO SPEAK ON ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE FUTURE, IT IS ON AN

INDUSTRY WHICH ALREADY HAS A HISTORY, HAS INVESTMENT, IN

JOBS, AND IN PLANT, AND ONE HAS TO START FROM WHERE WE ARE AT

NOW.

IN THOSE CASES I DO NOT HAVE THE OPTION GIVEN BY A WAYSIDE

PEAT CUTTER IN A SMALLISH COUNTRY OFF THE WEST COAST OF

EUROPE - (CABINET MINISTERS MUST BE WARY ABOUT

PERPETRATING STEREOTYPES) WHO, ON BEING ASKED BY

LOST TRAVELLERS HOW THEY SHOULD GET TO A PARTICULAR CITY SAID

"WELL I COULD TELL YOU, BUT IF I WERE YOU I WOULDN'T START

FROM HERE". · '

BUT IN THE SPACE INDUSTRY CASE, WE CAN ALMOST START FROM

HERE, AS IT WERE.

TO TRY TO ANSWER../2

TO TRY TO ANSWER THE QUESTION OF WHETHER THE AUSTRALIAN SPACE

INDUSTRY HAS ANY FUTURE, IT IS FIRST NECESSARY TO TRY SOME

CRYSTAL BALL GAZING ON THE SPACE AGE IN GENERAL.

WHEN WE LOOK AROUND, ON THAT SUBJECT, WE FIND A RANGE OF

PROJECTIONS FROM THE MOST PROMISING TO THE MOST DEVASTATING.

WE FIND EVERYTHING FROM HUGE SELF-SUSTAINING ORBITAL SPACE

COLONIES TO THE APOCALYPSE, VIA WHAT IS EUPHEMISTICALLY

TERMED A STRATEGIC NUCLEAR EXCHANGE.

I CAN ONLY ASSUME THAT THE WORLD WILL STEER A STEADY COURSE

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THESE EXTREMES. WE SHOULD, ALTHOUGHT WE'

ARE TALKING ABOUT SPACE, KEEP OUR FEET ON THE GROUND - AT THE

RISK OF USING A SOMEWHAT DISCORDANT METAPHOR

FUTUROLOGY IS A RISKY BUSINESS WHERE REPUTATIONS ARE MORE

OFTEN LOST THAN WON.

-2-

ARTHUR C CLARKE.../3

ARTHUR C CLARKE, Vi HO FIRST PREDICTED BACK IN THE 1940S THAT

SATELLITES IN EROSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT COULD BE USED TO PROVIDE A

GLOBAL BROADCASTING AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE, HAD THIS

TO SAY:

'it is impossible to predict the future, and all

attempts to do so in any detail appear ludicrous within

a few years"

NEVERTHELESS, HAVING CORNERED MYSELF BY QUOTING THIS, I WILL

ATTEMPT TO OUTLINE, IN BROAD TERMS, A FEW POSSIBILITIES FOR

AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY. I BELIEVE THAT WE SHOULD BE DISCUSSING

AND DEBATING THESE POSSIBILITIES VERY ACTIVELY, AND I

THEREFORE COMMEND THE ORGANISERS OF THIS SYMPOSIUM.

TO TAKE STOCK, IT IS INTERESTING TO NOTE THE EXTENT TO WHICH

AUSTRALIA IS ALREADY INVOLVED WITH SPACE.

FIRSTLY, . ./4

FIRSTLY, WE HAVE SOME FIRST CLASS OBSERVATIONS, IN THE SHAPE

OF THE OPTICAL TELESCOPES AT MOUNT STROMLO AND THE- RADIO

TELESCOPE AT PARKES.

SECONDLY, WE ARE INVOLVED IN SEVERAL SATELLITE PROJECTS:

- INTELSAT, THE OVERSEAS COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE

- AUSSAT, THE DOMESTIC COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE

- A STUDY OF STARLAB, THE ORBITING OPTICAL SATELLITE

- LANDSAT, THE U.S. SURVEY SATELLITE

- AND THE JAPANESE METEOROLOGICAL SATELLITE. '

IN ADDITION TO THESE ACTIVITIES, WE HOST THE NASA TRACKING

STATION AT TIDBINBILLA.

-4-

λ tic m n 7 s r τ x

AUSTRALIA ALREADY HAS SOME INVOLVEMENT IN SPACE. A GROWING

RANGE OF ACTIVITIES, FROM ASTRONOMY TO WEATHER FORECASTING IS

BECOMING DEPENDENT UPON SPACE SYSTEMS.

BUT TO EXTRAPOLATE BEYOND THIS, TO TRY TO GUESS WHAT

AUSTRALIA MIGHT BE DOING IN SPACE BY THE YEAR 2000 - EVEN

THOUGH A MERE 16 YEARS AWAY, IS NOT EASY.

FIRST THEN, LET US LOOK AT THE 'DEMAND' SIDE OF THE PICTURE.

AND HERE, THE FACTS INDICATE THAT AUSTRALIA'S APPETITE FOR

SATELLITES AND OTHER SPACE BASED SYSTEMS WILL BE SIGNIFICANT

PROFESSOR DON MATHEWSON OF THE ANU, THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND

MT STROMLO'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE STARLAB PROJECT, HAS -

ESTIMATED THAT BY THE 21ST CENTURY AUSTRALIA WILL REQUIRE THE

USE OF ABOUT 20 SATELLITES - TO SUPPLY ALL THE SERVICES AT

WHICH SPACE SYSTEMS EXCEL:

OVERSEAS COMMUNICATIONS /6

-6-

OVERSEAS COMMUNICATIONS, DIRECT SATELLITE BROADCASTING OF

RADIO AND TV SIGNALS, NATIONAL TELEPHONE AND DATA

TRANSMISSION SERVICES, MINING SURVEYS, CROP, FOREST AND

FISHERIES MANAGEMENT, COASTAL SURVEILLANCE, METEOROLOGICAL

AND ATRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS.

THE LIST IS LONG AND BASED ONLY ON WHAT WE CAN CURRENTLY

IMAGINE. UNDOUBTEDLY, WE WILL THINK OF FURTHER APPLICATIONS

AS THE TECHNOLOGIES MATURE.

DON MATHEWSON'S SECOND INTERESTING OBSERVATION IS THAT THE

LIFE EXPECTANCY OF THESE SATELLITES IS ONLY 7 YEARS.

TO MAINTAIN A FLEET OF 20 SATELLITES IN ORBIT, EACH WITH A

LIFE EXPECTANCY OF 7 YEARS, YOU NEED TO LAUNCH 3 NEW

SATELLITES A YEAR.

IF SATELLITES /7

-7-

IF SATELLITES COST $100 MILLION EACH, AUSTRALIAN EXPENDITURE

FOR SATELLITES WILL BE IN THE ORDER OF $300 MILLION A YEAR

WHEN WE ADD THE COST OF THE LAUNCH SYSTEMS, AND THE GROUND

BASED RECEIVING AND TRANSMITTING STATIONS WE ARE LOOKING AT

THE POSSIBILITY OF A MARKET OF AROUND $500 MILLION A YEAR,

FOR AUSTRALIAN NEEDS ALONE! AND THIS IS LESS THAN 2 DECADES

AWAY.

THE NUMBERS ARE QUITE BREATHTAKING. FORTUNES MAY WELL BE

MADE OUT OF THE AUSTRALIAN SPACE MARKET.

THE SATELLITE MARKET IS DOMINATED BY THE AMERICANS,

EUROPEANS, AND JAPANESE. FEW COMPANIES CAN MANUFACTURE,

ASSEMBLE AND TEST COMPLEX ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS TO THE EXTREMELY

HIGH STSNDARDS OF QUALITY, RUGGEDNESS AND DURABILITY DEMANDED

BY THE SPACE ENVIRONMENT.

IF WE WERE TO TAKE A SAFE../8

-8-

IF WE WERE TO TAKE A SAFE, UNIMAGINATIVE AND UNENTERPRISING

VIEW WE MIGHT SAY THAT AUSTRALIAN COMPANIES WILL NEVER

CAPTURE ANY SIGNIFICANT SHARE OF THE BURGEONING MARKET FOR

SPACE SYSTEMS:

- THE TECHNOLOGY IS TOO ADVANCED '

- THE STANDARDS ARE TOO HIGH

- AND NONE OF THEM ARE QUALIFIED BY NASA TO TENDER FOR

THE SUPPLY OF SPACE SYSTEMS.

WE COULD CONFIDENTLY PREDICT THAT THE SPACE INDUSTRY WILL BE

DOMINATED IN THE 1990'S AND BEYOND BY THE SAME COUNTRIES AND

PERHAPS THE SAME FIRMS THAT DOMINATE TODAY AND THAT

AUSTRALIAN INVOLVEMENT WILL ONLY BE PERIPHERAL.

HOWEVER, THIS PREDICTION.../9

HOWEVER THIS PREDICTION FALLS INTO ONE OF CLARKE'S TRAPS FOR

THE PROPHET; FAILURE OF IMAGINATION.

CLARK DESCRIBES HIS SECOND HAZARD OF PROPHECY IN THE

FOLLOWING TERMS:

" a failure of imagination occurs ... when all the

available facts are appreciated and marshalled

correctly but when the really vital facts are still

undiscovered, and the* possibility of their existence is

not admitted".

TO CONCLUDE THAT AUSTRALIA’S MARKET FOR SPACE SYSTEMS WILL

BE DOMINATED BY OVERSEAS SUPPLIERS IS TO EXCLUDE THE

POSSIBILITY THAT AUSTRALIAN FIRMS WILL EVER BE ABLE TO

SUCCESSFULLY MEET THE STRINGENT REQUIREMENTS OF THE SPACE

INDUSTRY

PERHAPS.../10

-10-

PERHAPS WE SHOULD QUESTION WHETHER THIS ALWAYS NEEDS TO BE

THE CASE - THIS IS THE "EXISTENCE OF FACTS" POINT IN THE

CLARKE QUOTE.

THOSE MORE FAMILIAR WITH SPACE TECHNOLOGIES THAN I AM, MAY

BELIEVE THAT AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY COULD NOT OVERCOME THE

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES INVOLVED IN THE MANUFACTURE AND

TESTING OF SPACE SYSTEMS. THEY COULD POINT TO THE FACT THAT

VERY FEW COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD CAN BOAST OF A SATELLITE

MANUFACTURING CAPABILITY AND THAT AUSTRALIA IN ALL ■

PROBABILITY WILL NEVER BE ONE OF THEM.

BUT THERE ARE INSTANCES ALREADY OF AUSTRALIAN FIRMS MAKING,

OR HAVING THE CAPABILITY TO MAKE, COMPONENTS FOR SPACE

SYSTEMS. E.G:

AUSPACE.../II

- 1 1 -

- AUSPACE AND ITS SUBCONTRACTORS

- BRITISH AEROSPACE AUSTRALIA, WHICH HAS REPORTEDLY

DECIDED TO SPECIALISE IN SPACE SYSTEMS

- AND STC WHICH HAS CLEAN ROOMS FOR COMMUNICATIONS

CABLES WHICH ARE OF A SUFFICIENTLY HIGH STANDARD TO

PREPARE CABLES FOR USE IN SPACE VEHICLES.

IT MAYBE ONLY A MATTER OF TIME (MAYBE ONLY A DECADE OR SO)

BEFORE ALL THE TECHNICAL BARRIERS, WHICH APPEAR SO

INSURMOUNTABLE NOW, ARE BROKEN DOWN.'

IF THAT IS SO, THEN ALL THAT WILL STAND IN THE WAY OF AN

AUSTRALIAN SPACE INDUSTRY WILL BE THE ECONOMICS OF THE

MATTER.

THE MARKET IS THERE, /12

-12-

THE MARKET IS THERE, BUT WHAT OF THE ROLE OF LOCAL PRODUCERS

AND WOULD THEY BE COMPETITIVE?

WHAT FOLLOWS IS CONJECTURE AND ASKS MANY MORE QUESTIONS THAN

SUPPLIES ANSWERS.

FIRSTLY, THE SPACE INDUSTRY ITSELF SEEMS MADE TO MEASURE FOR

AUSTRALIA'S MIX OF FACTOR ENDOWMENTS. THE TECHNICAL BARRIERS

ASIDE, WE FIND A LOW VOLUME, HIGH VALUE ADDED INDUSTRY WHICH

REQUIRES A HIGHLY SKILLED WORKFORCE AND PLACES HEAVY DEMANDS

UPON A NATIONS'S SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL RESOURCES.

LOW WAGE RATES AND ECONOMIES OF SCALE ARE NOT IMPORTANT

CONSIDERATIONS. SATELLITES ARE HAND BUILT, CUSTOM MADE

PRODUCTS. THE MAJOR INPUT IS SCIENTIFIC CREATIVITY AND

TECHNOLOGICAL TALENT, WHICH WE HAVE.

AUSTRALIA.../13

-13-

AUSTRALIA HAS THE SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

REQUIRED TO BUILD SATELLITES. QUITE CONCEIVABLY, A SATELLITE

MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY IN AUSTRALIA COULD PROVIDE A

COMMERCIAL OUTLET FOR THE HIGH LEVEL OF RESEARCH EXPERTISE WE

HAVE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES, CSIRO, AND TELECOM. A NUMBER OF

ELECTRONICS FIRMS HAVE DEMONSTRATED THEIR ABILITY TO MASTER

THE MOST ADVANCED FORMS OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY. MANY FIRMS

ALSO HAVE ACCESS TO THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS OVERSEAS VIA

FOREIGN AFFILIATES.

AUSTRALIA HAS THE SKILLED TECHNICAL MANPOWER TO BUILD THE

MOST SOPHISTICATED SCIENTIFIC AND MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS.

PERHAPS THESE SKILLS COULD BE TRANSFERABLE TO SATELLITE

MANUFACTURE? WE ALSO HAVE AN INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURE ORIENTED

TOWARD SMALL BATCH MANUFACTURE AND FAMILIAR WITH THE

CUSTOMISED, ONE-OFF PRODUCTION MODE OF SATELLITE MANUFACTURE.

SECONDLY___/14

-14-

SECONDLY, AN AUSTRALIAN MARKET OF 3 SATELLITES PER YEAR COULD

PROVIDE THE DOMESTIC BASELOAD FROM WHICH LOCAL MANUFACTURERS

COULD GEAR UP FOR EXPORT MARKETS.

THE GLOBAL MARKET FOR SATELLITES IS VERY LARGE. IT HAS BEEN

ESTIMATED THAT IN THE NEXT 16 YEARS 150 COMMUNICATIONS

SATELLITES WILL BE LAUNCHED.

AT $100 MILLION EACH THIS PUTS THE WORLD MARKET FOR

COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITES AND GROUND EQUIPMENT UNTIL THE END

OF THE CENTURY AT AROUND $30 BILLION.

THE EXPORT OPPORTUNITIES FOR AUSTRALIAN FIRMS WHICH MANAGE TO

BREAK INTO THE SPACE MARKET ARE VAST. PARTICULARLY APPEALING

IS THE PROSPECT OF SUPPLYING THE SOUTH EAST ASIAN MARKET.

THIRDLY../15

-15

THIRDLY, HAZARDING A FURTHER LOOK INTO THE FUTURE, SAY 25

YEARS FROM NOW (2009 AD), THE POSSIBLIITY THAT AUSTRALIA MAY

ACTUALLY HAVE A SPACE PORT FROM WHICH SATELLITES ARE LAUNCED

INTO SPACE ON AUSTRALIAN MADE ROCKETS HAS BEEN RAISED. !

I IMAGINE YOUR REACTIONS TO THIS STATEMENT WOULD BE ALONG THE

LINES OF:

IMPOSSIBLE! AUSTRALIA WILL NEVER BUILD ROCKETS"

BUT BEFORE WE DISMISS THIS NOTION OUT OF HAND IT MIGHT BE

WISE TO RECALL A FEW CAUTIONARY WORDS AGAIN FROM ARTHUR C

CLARKE:

"with monotonous regularity apparently competent men

have laid down the law about what is technically

possible or impossible - and have been proved utterly

wrong, sometimes while the ink was scarcely dry from

their pens".

.../16

-16-

PERHAPS THE IDEA IS WORTH EXAMINING IN A LITTLE DETAIL. IT

TOOK LESS THAN 25 YEARS FOR SPACE ROCKET TECHNOLOGY TO

DIFFUSE FROM ITS ORIGINATORS THE USSR AND THE USA TO BRITAIN,

FRANCE, CHINA, INDIA, AND JAPAN. IN ANOTHER 25 YEARS ALL

THESE NATIONS MAY HAVE REUSABLE SHUTTLES, LEAVING THE ROCKET

TO THE SMALLER NATIONS.

THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY (EAS) WHICH IS DEVELOPING THE

ARIANE, BELIEVES THAT CHEAP, ONE-SHOT ROCKETS WILL BE ABLE TO

COMPETE AGAINST THE SHUTTLE.

WHEN THE ESA ITSELF MOVES UPMARKET TO THE SHUTTLE MAYBE

AUSTRALIA WILL BE ABLE TO FILL THE MARKET NICHE LEFT BY THE

ARIANE. BY THAT TIME THE MANUFACTURE OF ROCKETS MAY BE WELL

WITHIN OUR TECHNOLOGICAL CAPABILITIES. WE COULD MAKE ROCKETS

NOT JUST FOR OUT OWN USE BUT FOR LAUNCHING SATELLITES

REQUIRED BY OTHER NATIONS AS WELL.

AUSTRALIA../17

-17-

AUSTRALIA, AS A SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE NATION, COULD HAVE

CERTAIN ADVANTAGES OVER THE USA AS A LOCATION FOR A SPACE

PORT: "

FIRST NORTHERN AUSTRALIA IS SIGNIFICANTLY CLOSER TO

THE EQUATOR THAN CAPE CANAVERAL. IT IS ARGUED THAT

ROCKETS LAUNCED FROM AUSTRALIA COULD TAKE ADVANTAGE

OF THE HIGHER ROTATIONAL ENERGY OF THE EARTH'S SPIN

NEAR THE EQUATOR TO HELP FLING THE PAYLOAD INTO

ORBIT, WITH CONSEQUENT SAVINGS IN FUEL.-

SECONDLY AN AUSTRALIAN LAUNCHING SITE COULD MORE

CONVENIENTLY SERVE THE ASIAN AND PACIFIC NATIONS IN

OUR REGION.

THIRDLY, IT IS ARGUED THAT THE DRY REGIONS OF THE

NORTH-WEST HAVE A MUCH BETTER CLIMATE FOR ROCKETRY

THAN FLORIDA WHERE LAUNCHES (AND LANDINGS) ARE

FREQUENTLY INTERRUPTED BY BAD WEATHER.

-18-

TO PROVIDE SOME IMMEDIATE COMPETITION TO THE USA AND TO GET A

SPACE PORT ESTABLISHED, AUSTRALIA COULD CONSIDER OFFERING

LAUNCHING SITES TO THE EUROPEAN AND JAPANESE SPACE AGENCIES.

THERE ARE NO REALLY SUITABLE SITES IN THESE CROWDED NORTHERLY

COUNTRIES TO LAUNCH SPACE VEHICLES AND AUSTRALIA MAY BE A

SUPERIOR LOCATION TO FRENCH GUIANA, CURRENTLY USED BY THE

ESA. .

WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT CURRENTLY HAVE IN PLACE WITH RESPECT

TO AN AUSTRALIAN SPACE INDUSTRY

FIRSTLY, WE ARE FUNDING BASIC RESEARCH AND

DEVELOPMENT IN OUR UNIVERSITIES AND OTHER GOVERNMENT

INSTITUTIONS. THE MOST NOTABLE EXAMPLE IS, OF

COURSE, THE STARLAB PROJECT WHERE THE DEVELOPMENT OF

THE INSTRUMENT PACKAGE IS BEING FUNDED BY AN AIRDIS

GRANT UNDER THE S39 PUBLIC INTEREST PROVISIONS.

SECONDLY.../19

-19-

SECONDLY, WE HAVE THE OFFSETS POLICY WHICH REQUIRED

FOREIGN SUPPLIERS TO PLACE ORDERS WITH AUSTRALIAN

INDUSTRY TO THE VALUE OF 30% OF A GOVERNMENT

CONTRACT. THIS POLICY IS DESIGNED TO ACHIEVE TRANSFER

OF EQUIVALENT TECHNOLOGY

THE OFFSETS POLICY COULD OPEN THE DOOR FOR AUSTRALIAN

COMPANIES TO PARTICIPATE IN THE MANUFACTURE OF SATELLITES

PROCURED BY THE COMMONWEALTH. IT WOULD BE ESSENTIAL,

HOWEVER, THAT IN SO DOING THERE WAS A HIGH LEVEL OF

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER TO THE AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY.

IN CONCLUSION, I AM AFRAID THAT THIS HAS BEEN AN EXERCISE IN

CONJECTURE AND HEROIC ASSUMPTIONS.

BUT THE MARKET IS OUT THERE , AND THERE MAY BE THE CAPABILITY

TO SUPPLY IT; CERTAINLY IT NEEDS INVESTIGATION.

THE GOVERNMENT__/20

-20-

THE GOVERNMENT IS WILLING TO HELP AND PROVIDE THE FRAMEWORK.

BETWEEN US, WE MUST LOOK HARD-HEADEDLY AT THE INITIATIVES WE

CAN TAKE. THE TIME IS NOW.