7 mins read 17 Jul 2020

Defining The Australian Space Sector

The Australian Space Agency has defined what our space sector looks like, focusing on four foundational segments that categorise different activities across the sector. We ask participants in the Australian space community for their thoughts.

The AAVS, which forms part of the SKA telescope. Credit: Michael Goh/ICRAR/SKA Australia

The Australian Space Agency has outlined its definition of the Australian space sector, which encompasses everyday activities that involve space-related functionality, critical data for a range of services, and activities that draw on engagement and inspiration across science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The new definition, released in June 2020, categorises space-related activities and functions along the space value chain, integrating it as part of the broader space economy.

This is spread across four major segments:

A links to the full list of activities and definitions is provided at the end of this article.




Manufacturing and Core Inputs

Ground and space segment manufacturing and services

Control Centres, Telemetry, Antennas

Building of launch vehicles, instruments, equipment, spacecraft, components, payloads, space suits

Space Operations

Launch activities, management of objects in space, managing operations of space activities

Launch activities and services

Space object tracking, mission planning, space situational awareness

Robotics in space, experiments in space, manufacturing in space

Space Applications

Space-derived resources that create useful products and services like hardware, software, publications and data

Satellite internet, data, images

Earth observation services

IoT services

Maps using space-based data

Space Enablers

Regulatory services, terrestrial infrastructure, educative capabilities, R&D, professional and support services

Regulatory bodies

Professional services like space lawyers

R&D, space sciences, space medicine

Spacecraft design, testing and engineering

Space insurances

Value chain of the Australian space sector. Credit: Industry.gov

The definition of the Australian space sector utilised by the Australian Space Agency draws on the current Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) definition for the ‘space economy’, which has also been used by New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

This definition indicates that the space sector itself is a subset of a larger space economy which forms part of the more generic Australian economy ‘through the increasingly pervasive and continually changing impact of space-derived products, services and knowledge’. 

This definition will also be used by the Australian Space Agency to measure and monitor the Australian space sector’s performance against the targets set out in the Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-28.

Thoughts from the Australian Space Community

Members of the Australian space community shared their thoughts about this definition and the activities it encompasses.

Space documentary producer, and admin of the People of Space curated community on Twitter, Tara Foster, believes that human spaceflight should have its own standing within the definition.

“I think Human Spaceflight as its very own component would be strong. A lot of what I've just read is based on equipment but I do think it's important to do due diligence in Human Spaceflight - even this early in the stage as the Australian Space Agency. Definitely worth thinking about,” said Tara.

“Also, possibly a stand-alone section on education and outreach. The way to get the best of the very best within your agency is to excite the public. If you can gain the support of the public through education - be it grass roots or via universities, it's much easier to win support for projects.”

Astrophysicist Kirsten Banks says that the definition is very comprehensive, but could be boosted with the role science communication plays in the greater space sector.

“The first thing I noticed was that there's no discernible mention of the contributions made from space science communication. Communication is so important in any sector that contributes to the economy, because it enables the public understanding of WHY and it improves public endorsement,” says Kirsten.

Byron Bay Astrophotographer, and host of StarStuff, Dylan O’Donnell described the contribution and inclusion of culture into the definition.

“Even though the official definition doesn’t mention it, the space sector will necessarily include culture. A generation will grow up with off-planet activity as part of their DNA and the resultant parallel industries that fosters including art, science, tourism and more,” he said.

Science Communicator, Brendan O'Brien raised some concerns about the lack of scientific goals that are not expanded further in the definition. 

"My only concern is that Australian Government Strategic vision for the Australian space sector has no scientific goals. None. Not a single one. A robust and adaptable 'Strategic Vision' should have clearly defined and measurable scientific goals. There is no quest for new knowledge. Gobsmacked at this apparent *lack* of vision!"

Space Archaeologist and Associate Professor at Flinders University, Dr. Alice Gorman was encouraged to see books on Australia’s space history included, and welcomed the application to television services.

“I'm glad to see 'educational space history books' in infrastructure and capabilities. It's not specified that this is Australian space history, but certainly the implication is books for local consumption. I think it's important that Australians become more informed about our own space history,” she said.

“The inclusion of satellite television in the space sector, with associated products and services, is really interesting to me as traditionally this has not been thought of as part of space industry.”

Troy McCann, CEO of Moonshot, thinks the definition does work from a functionality perspective, taking into account the historical context of the space industry – but should go further in leading as a mechanism for expanding the whole global economy into new physical frontiers.

“We need to realise that space is no longer a single vertical industry, and it's no longer a niche horizontal sector either. We don't say there's a 'sea sector' or a 'desert sector'. It will soon be redundant to refer to a space sector at all. Launch will be in the logistics industry alongside shipping. Earth observation satellites today are just an extension of the Internet of Things, producing new data to better understand our world."

"For us to develop a world-leading capability in space we need to use a more innovative and broader model that understands the different economic activities that we do to enable, and be enabled by, the new infrastructure we'll use in new frontier locations. Some of this activity will be done on Earth, some in orbit, some on Mars. Each location is vastly different so we shouldn't continue to group them. The current model is one that looks back at the trend of a space industry long gone. We need to use a model that looks forward towards the world we want and need to build," he said.

Personally, the definition for me does cover the aspects of the growing space industry/sector well – but like many others, I think it could be boosted with some slight adjustments to include the larger space community – such as the inclusion of culture (esp. Indigenous cultural knowledge), the humanities (such as the inclusion and importance of space art and storytelling) and expand further on the space sciences – which are a source of inspiration for the next generation.  

Something else a few people have considered is making the definition more fluid and evolving – a living document so to speak – that changes as we, as a younger space community, also grow and change with more general audiences adopting and becoming part of the community.

For a detailed review of examples of activities and further information, please visit the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources website.