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.