Our airports might soon become launch pads to meet the needs of eager space tourists ready and willing to reach the final frontier.
Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews has revealed she is in talks with the three major space travel operators about how to make Australia the epicentre of space tourism.
The heads of SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are being courted to transform Queensland’s airports into launchpads. Andrews said she was investigating whether runways used by A380 aircraft, the world’s largest passenger planes, could be repurposed as space travel ports.
Although space flight times would be short compared to air travel, a few minutes in space is long enough to see some of Australia’s iconic sights from a new vantage point.
“Potentially you could take the flights over the Great Barrier Reef or Uluru,” Andrews said.
The first commercial trips to space could take place as soon as this year, with SpaceX (headed by Elon Musk) and Virgin Galactic (headed by Richard Branson) celebrating recent advances towards manned space flight. Almost 750 people have booked a spot on one of Virgin Galactic’s future flights.
Watch this space
This announcement comes in the wake of reports highlighting Queensland’s potential for success in space.
A report commissioned by the Queensland Government and produced by Deloitte Access Economics in February 2019 found “Queensland’s geographical, commercial and research strengths enable us to lead Australia’s exposure to the global space economy”.
“Our state has competitive advantages in the space systems, launch, ground systems space-enabled services and R&D parts of the sector,” the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning said in a statement.
Space exploration and engineering is an economic opportunity as much as an intellectual pursuit. Satellites add value in the form of data, which enables everything from weather monitoring to navigation, communication, banking and internet access.
The Sky is not the limit: Building Queensland’s space economy report stated that rather than compete with “entrenched agglomerations in the US, China and Europe”, Australia (and Queensland specifically) should aim to contribute niche, high-value goods and services.
Although Queensland’s bid to house the Australian Space Agency was unsuccessful (that honour went to Adelaide), the state has a thriving space startup ecosystem, with such players as Gilmour Space Technologies in the startup sector.
At a national level, Australia is busy laying the groundwork for an expanded space industry offering. Globally, the space economy is valued at US$345 billion. Australia’s share of that pie is $3.9 billion, with 10,000 people employed in the sector and the majority in the commercial sector. The goal is to grow those numbers to $12 billion and 30,000 employees by 2030.
“We’re in the very early stages, but as Australia’s Space Minister, I’m in the box seat to be talking to these [space tourism] businesses, and I’m going to be taking every opportunity to encourage them to look at Australia,” Andrews said.