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Developing Australia’s role in space is vital for national security

Posted By on July 20, 2022 @ 11:03

Activities in space matter for national security, not least because of the significance of remote-sensing technologies in gathering intelligence and data. Any weaponisation of space presents obvious national security challenges. Continued safe access to space, and also to launch sites, will be key in securing essential information, such as that used to monitor military activity and climate events, and in delivering humanitarian aid.

The use of space also poses unique legal challenges, including when and how domestic laws might apply to space activities—for example, the application of criminal law in space [1] and the challenges posed [2] by the use and misuse of extraterritorial jurisdiction in space generally.

The demography of space actors has changed rapidly since the end of the Cold War. There’s now an expanding kaleidoscope of space activity in the Indo-Pacific region. For example, Indonesia has plans to build [3] a (non-military) spaceport in Biak, an island in the northern part of Papua. Notably, Indonesia’s geographical position on the equator makes it an attractive space launch location because the way the earth spins on its axis means equatorial launches can produce additional velocity compared with higher latitude launches.

Biak is home to indigenous West Papuans who are concerned [4] about land acquisition and environmental management. This illustrates the interconnectedness [5] between space and human rights, including where both commercial interests and human rights obligations [6] are actively present and may be conflicting. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has reportedly [7] personally pitched Indonesia as a launch site to SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk. In November, Indonesia is scheduled to host the Business 20 summit in Bali, which Musk is rumoured to be planning to attend.

Australia and the rest of the world should not underestimate Indonesia’s strategic significance. It is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the world’s fourth most populous nation [8] and 10th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. It is the fulcrum connecting the Philippines and the north and western Pacific in the northeast; the South China Sea directly to its north; and to the west, the Indian Ocean. It lies at the heart of the Indo-Pacific. As such a strategically located emerging power, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Indonesia is looking to extend its reach to space.

Australia itself has a rapidly growing commercial space sector that includes launch capabilities. In June, Equatorial Launch Australia successfully completed its first commercial space launch for NASA [9] from Nhulunbuy [10] in the Northern Territory. It was also NASA’s first launch [9] from a fully commercial spaceport. That was followed last week by a second successful launch for NASA from Nhulunbuy.

Other potential Australian launch sites that could be of strategic interest are being developed at Whalers Way near Port Lincoln in South Australia and at Bowen in north Queensland. Australia’s Gilmour Space Technologies is reportedly close [11]to the first orbital launch of its Eris I launcher, suitable for deploying small satellites into orbit. All of these projects are increasing Australia’s global competitiveness as a potential key player in Indo–Pacific space relations.

Elsewhere in the region, Thai start-up mu Space opened Thailand’s first spaceship factory [12] in late 2020. Last month, South Korea launched satellites [13]into orbit using its own rocket for the first time. Japan, already a major space-faring nation, launched the world’s first mission to return samples from an asteroid [14] in December 2020. Last year, the Japanese government signed an agreement [15] with NASA on the Lunar Gateway, an orbiting outpost with both commercial and government partners.  Launched in 2008, India’s Chandrayaan-1 [16] helped confirm the presence of ice water on the moon [17], and India plans to land Chandrayaan-2 [18] on the moon in 2022 or 2023.

China released a white paper [19] in 2021 on its space program, describing its mission to ‘explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power’ as an ‘eternal dream’ to be pursued ‘for the benefit of all humanity; to meet the demands of economic, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress; and to raise the scientific and cultural levels of the Chinese people, protect China’s national rights and interests, and build up its overall strength’.

In the same year, China signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia [20] to establish a research station on the moon within the next two decades. Beijing is also the headquarters of the Asia–Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, whose member states are Bangladesh, China, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand and Turkey. The theme of the organisation’s development strategy [21] forum in 2015 was The belt and road initiative for facilitating space capabilities building on the Asia Pacific countries’. It has since built a satellite data-sharing platform.

For Australia, the rapid expansion of the space activities in the Indo-Pacific region means ensuring respectful working relationships in the region, continued investment in our own space industry, and deepening engagement in space diplomacy. It also means ensuring our legal regimes both protect and enable our potential to play a leadership role in regional space relations.

Australia’s support [22] of the US-led Artemis Accords is significant. Among other matters, the accords [23] recognise ‘the necessity of greater coordination and cooperation between and among established and emerging actors in space’, ‘the global benefits of space exploration and commerce’, and the ‘collective interest in preserving outer space heritage’. They also affirm the principles of space law set out in the core international treaties governing space.

Australia has also strengthened its space relationship with the United Kingdom. In February 2021, the two countries signed the Space Bridge Framework Arrangement [24], which aims to grow jobs across the industry.

Notwithstanding these broader international partnerships, it would serve Australia well to continue develop itself as a regional, as well as international, space player—not least in remaining cognisant of the geographical and political significance of our neighbour Indonesia and other regional players with an increasing interest in the space sector.

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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/developing-australias-role-in-space-is-vital-for-national-security/

URLs in this post:

[1] criminal law in space: https://theconversation.com/star-laws-what-happens-if-you-commit-a-crime-in-space-122456

[2] challenges posed: https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/jrlsl44&div=4&id=&page=

[3] plans to build: https://theconversation.com/indonesias-first-spaceport-in-biak-papua-set-to-become-first-equatorial-launching-site-in-the-pacific-127499

[4] concerned: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-is-well-positioned-for-space-launches/

[5] interconnectedness: https://ugp.rug.nl/GROJIL/article/view/37954

[6] commercial interests and human rights obligations: https://escholarship.org/content/qt3636p0sp/qt3636p0sp_noSplash_536bf233bfe24c1879b5963f36d8b2ac.pdf

[7] has reportedly: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/16/business/indonesia-spaceport-elon-musk.html

[8] fourth most populous nation: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/indonesia/overview

[9] its first commercial space launch for NASA: https://ela.space/ela-announces-the-successful-completion-of-australias-first-ever-commercial-space-launch/

[10] Nhulunbuy: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australias-space-future-blasts-off-from-nhulunbuy/

[11] reportedly close : https://www.gspacetech.com/post/ksat-to-support-gilmour-space-with-launch-of-eris-orbital-launch-vehicles

[12] spaceship factory: https://www.spacetechasia.com/thailands-mu-space-to-open-spaceship-factory/

[13] launched satellites : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/21/world/asia/south-korea-rocket-launch-nuri.html

[14] return samples from an asteroid: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanocallaghan/2020/12/14/japan-confirms-its-hayabusa2-spacecraft-returned-samples-of-asteroid-ryugu-to-earth/?sh=1985020e24b5

[15] signed an agreement: https://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/newsletters/lpib/new/nasa-and-the-government-of-japan-formalize-gateway-partnership-for-artemis-program/

[16] Chandrayaan-1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrayaan-1

[17] ice water on the moon: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/chandrayaan-1-helps-scientists-confirm-water-ice-on-moon/articleshow/65492055.cms?from=mdr

[18] Chandrayaan-2: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01252-7

[19] white paper: http://english.www.gov.cn/archive/whitepaper/202201/28/content_WS61f35b3dc6d09c94e48a467a.html

[20] with Russia: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/asia-s-space-race-china-leads-india-strategy

[21] organisation’s development strategy: https://web.archive.org/web/20100620201421/http:/www.apsco.int/

[22] Australia’s support: https://www.industry.gov.au/news/australia-signs-nasas-artemis-accords

[23] accords: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis-accords/img/Artemis-Accords-signed-13Oct2020.pdf

[24] Space Bridge Framework Arrangement: https://www.industry.gov.au/news/space-bridge-to-unite-australia-and-uk-space-industries

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