Time is of the essence. While not replicating the frantic 1960s Space Race to launch humans in orbit and land on the Moon, the new frontier of space engagement by many countries – and corporations – is moving quickly and changing rapidly.
To accurately identify Australia’s position within this crowded and highly competitive international arena, Associate Professor Rodrigo Praino has been building a Space Power Index for the Australian Department of Defence – a world-first framework to measure and determine how effectively different countries engage in space programs.
It’s an important tool to qualify space politics and policy, especially for South Australia, which is home to around 80 space-related organisations and the South Australian Space Industry Centre. It also complements other work of the Space Power and Policy Applied Research Consortium (SPPARC) that Associate Professor Praino founded at Flinders, in collaboration with the European Space Policy Institute and the University of Naples “L’Orientale”.
The index measures 11 countries currently active in space projects – from the superpowers of China, the US and Russia, through significant middle powers of India and Japan, to emerging national entities that include India, Canada, Israel, Brazil and South Korea, along with Australia.
It covers two measurements – a country’s technical capability to engage with space projects, and a country’s autonomy – to assess whether a country has the capacity to do its own space projects or whether it needs partners.
It also examines whether countries have the political capability to make their own space decisions without outside interference. In Australia’s case – and with many competing countries – this becomes a complex answer, as much of the local space technology is owned and operated by private entities, not by the state.
Delving deeper, the index assesses how a country is effectively using its space technology – identifying whether it simply records weather patterns or relays telecommunications information, or does it help inform industries such as fishing, farming and forestry, or play a key role in Defence?
Analysing these answers shapes a firmer framework for what a country such as Australia should be doing in space.
“The index shows that Australia is a middle power in space – and quite obviously does not have the resources to become a superpower,” explains Associate Professor Praino.
Therefore, Associate Professor Praino suggests that rather than try to “discover” opportunities in space, Australia must instead decide what it has the ability to do and how to engage such assets as the way to best shape its engagement in space programs.
While Associate Professor Praino’s year-long data collection phase – comprising more than 150 pieces of separate information on each country to shape the Space Power Index – and initial report writing is complete, his deeper examination of the data will show where Australia should place its energies to effectively compete in space, especially by focusing in areas where other countries are underperforming.
There are added complexities to consider, with some multinational corporations edging ahead of many countries. It suggests the current space race isn’t solely about technological power but the prospect of attaining great commercial power.
If the players and rules of engagement in the new space race have changed, who stands as the umpire – and who determines the rules that should be adhered to? Heavy questions about this unexplored realm linger, but Associate Professor Praino continues to mine a vast trove of information at Flinders University to find answers.
“The most exciting outcomes will happen now, as we enter the deep analytical stage of this project and tease out specific opportunities that can be achieved in Australia’s space program,” says Associate Professor Praino.
Discover how Flinders is making a difference to our culture, economy, environment society and world.
Sign up to get updates on upcoming events, news and more.
You consent to the use of our cookies if you proceed.