Spending on Space is investing in the quality of our life on Earth

Michael Bromley, CEO, Stone & Chalk Group

With the global space economy growing to a peak of US$469 billion (AU$686 million) in 2021, up 9% from 2020, we’re seeing incredible confidence and renewed interest in space exploration and its capabilities in positively impacting future generations. But the current disconnect between attitudes towards space technology advancements and what the space industry is looking to achieve is halting Australia’s contribution to a critical and rapidly growing sector.

Space technology will only increase in significance, especially as an enabler to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges including carbon storage and climate change. Contributing just one per cent – AU$4 billion a year – towards the global space sector, Australia is at risk of falling behind in the global space race as it speeds ahead if the industry is not adequately supported by governing bodies. 

There have been misconceptions pointing to burning through money and resources that are better designated to issues facing planet Earth. Yet, it fails to acknowledge that space technology is Earth technology. Really we’re investing in both at the same time. All the technology and science put towards outer space have provided innumerable material benefits to society.

For example, space infrastructure such as positioning, navigation, and timing is the most central element to one of our most-used technologies: GPS. In an era when scientists were able to track the satellite with shifts in its radio signals, modern use allows for the navigation of aircraft, ships, submarines, trains, space shuttles, to people driving cars.

Unbeknownst to many, there has been a connection between human spaceflight and dental care, with NASA technology making its way into the field of dentistry. What was originally technology used solely to track heat-seeking missiles, has now been developed into invisible dental braces. Made from material stronger than steel with light-absorbing qualities that give it the translucent look, and with its smooth, round properties that resist breakage, it’s no wonder we’ve used this technology to improve our quality of life (and achieve our perfect smiles).

Untapped potential

There have been criticisms as to why we spend so much money – over $90 billion across the globe each year – on outer space when we have an abundance of issues on planet Earth. Why don’t we focus on tackling the climate crisis and the economy? Opportunities in the space sector are, in fact, so great for the economy that the Australian Space Agency reports goals of tripling the sector’s contribution to national GDP to AU$12 billion and creating 20,000 jobs by 2030.

It’s paramount to understand that scientific and technological applications are not confined to the initial purpose it was created and used for. The sooner this is realised, the more we can support and grow companies that are already leveraging space technology to tackle areas like the climate. It’s one of the reasons we’ve focused on growing Stone & Chalk in South Australia. Adelaide is already a haven for technology and home to the Australian Space Agency making a name for itself as the national space centre.

One of our residents, Perennial, is using satellite remote-sensing technology for soil-based carbon offset. This technology, fused with machine learning and ground observations can map historical, present, and future soil carbon and land-based emissions to build a more sustainable and transparent agricultural supply chain. This can help food, fibre, and fuel companies reduce land-based emissions and brand climate-smart commodities. 

Satellite technology, paired up with solar power, is also being leveraged by Ping to determine the health of windmills. Known as a “stethoscope for windmills”, it detects cracks, splits, holes, pitting and lightning damage. This can potentially cut maintenance and repair costs in the wind power sector by as much as $500 million a year.

Australia continues to birth innovative individuals with an entrepreneurial drive to transform our future. But it’s ingrained into our culture to not boast about our achievements as a nation. Historically, Australia has always been a key player in the global space economy, dating back to the Apollo missions. Our country played a key part in a legacy moment, helping send TV images of humankind’s first steps on the moon and inspiring a generation of future science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. 

Australia has so much to offer towards building a stronger space economy that the world remains none the wiser about. That’s the whole reason for us existing — to build a community and create a pathway for passionate minds to accelerate and collaborate to propel Australia towards a sustainable tech-driven economy.

We need to start collaborating and working in synergy across universities, the government, and the industry to build the future of the space industry. We’re already equipped with the technical foundations to innovate and ideate towards improving our quality of life — we just need the perception to shift towards understanding that space technology is not exclusive to space.