An Australian ‘space command’ could be a force for good — or a cause for war


iss e orig.
NASA

Cassandra Steer, Australian National UniversityAs the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) celebrated 100 years with a spectacular and well-attended flyover in Canberra yesterday, many eyes were lifted to the skies. But RAAF’s ambitions go even higher, as its motto “through adversity, to the stars” hints. The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld, announced the intention to create a new “space command”.

Having a dedicated space command will bring Australia into line with Canada, India, France and Japan, all of which recently created similar organisations within their armed forces. Unlike the US Space Force, which is a separate branch of the military in addition to the army, navy and air force, Australia’s space command will oversee space activities across the Australian Defence Force.

Creating a space command is a smart move — but we must be careful to ensure it doesn’t add fuel to a cycle of military escalation in space that has already begun.




Read more:
The US plan for a Space Force risks escalating a ‘space arms race’


Space technology is vital but vulnerable

We depend on satellites for communications, navigation, banking and trade, weather and climate tracking, search and rescue, bushfire tracking, and more. A conflict in space would be catastrophic for us all.

There is a risk of “space war” because these technologies are also integral to military operations, both in peacetime and during conflict. If you want to take out your enemy’s eyes and ears, you target their satellites — but not with guns, bombs or lasers.

There are many ways in which so-called “counterspace technologies” might threaten those satellites. This might include cyber attacks, dazzling a satellite with low-powered lasers so that it can’t observe Earth, or jamming a signal so a satellite can’t send data to Earth.

Operating in space

The creation of US Space Force under the Trump administration in 2019 raised many eyebrows, and even led to a parody sitcom on Netflix. But while the comedy series had soldiers waging a war with China on the Moon using wrenches, US Space Force has a serious mandate, including the work that had been done for decades by its predecessor, US Space Command.

While the TV version ended in farce in Space Force, the real thing has a serious job.
Netflix

Much of that work involves tracking satellites and the estimated 128 million pieces of debris orbiting the Earth, to help avoid collisions that could be fatal to any number of services on which we rely. It also involves protecting US and allied space systems from counterspace threats.

The announcement that Australia will have its own space command is a welcome one in this sense. All three of our armed forces depend on space-based technologies, and centralised coordination is sensible.




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A guide to ensure everyone plays by the same military rules in space: the Woomera Manual


We also intend to increase our sovereign space capabilities, as outlined in the 2020 Strategic Defence Update, with A$7 billion dedicated to new space systems, mostly communications satellites. We need to be able to defend those satellites, and Defence needs to have centralised command and control of all government space operations. Australia also needs to be able to coordinate use of, access to, and protection of space with our allies.

Avoiding escalation

We should be extremely wary of designating space a “warfighting domain”. The US is the only country to adopt this nomenclature. It sends a deliberate signal to rivals that any point of conflict can now also be taken into space, or even begin in space.

The US Department of Defense asserts it is only responding to the actions of China and Russia, which have “weaponised space and turned it into a warfighting domain”. For China and Russia, of course, this statement and the creation of US Space Force justify ramping up their own space military programs. An escalating cycle with a potential for conflict in space is underway.

If Australia were to adopt the position that space is a warfighting domain, the most important country we would be sending a signal to would be China. We are far from having sufficient space capabilities to pick or win a fight with China in space. Adopting such a position could also be seen as a breach of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states that space shall be used for “exclusively peaceful purposes”.

Competition is counterproductive

Following the lead of our other allies offers a better path. The NATO countries refused to describe space as a warfighting domain when they debated it at their space summit in 2019. They opted instead to designate space an “operational domain”.

The US Space Force is underpinned by a doctrine of “space superiority”, which is not something to which Australia can — or should — aspire. In fact, a study commissioned by the US Department of Defense itself concludes dominance in space is not crucial to US or allied defence.




Read more:
‘War in space’ would be a catastrophe. A return to rules-based cooperation is the only way to keep space peaceful


This aligns with the arguments made by a range of global experts in a recent publication I co-edited, War and Peace in Outer Space. Seeking to dominate space militarily will likely lead to a counterproductive escalating cycle of competition. If we want to protect our space-based assets and those of our allies, we need to reduce the risk of an arms race, rather than incite one.

Australia should focus on its ability to become an effective diplomatic space power. A new centralised space command can be at the centre of this effort.The Conversation

Cassandra Steer, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law; Mission Specialist, ANU Institute for Space, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘War in space’ would be a catastrophe. A return to rules-based cooperation is the only way to keep space peaceful



SpaceX

Steven Freeland, Western Sydney University; David Kuan-Wei Chen, McGill University, and Ram S. Jakhu, McGill University

In 2019, US President Donald Trump declared “space is the new war-fighting domain”. This followed the creation of the US Space Force and a commitment to “American dominance” in outer space.

Other space-faring nations, and those who fear the acceleration of an arms race in space, were greatly concerned. At the latest meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, states noted with alarm that “preventing conflicts in outer space and preserving outer space for peaceful purposes” is more necessary than ever.

The election of Joe Biden as the next US president and Kamala Harris as vice-president suggests there is cause for hope. The future of space may look more like the recent launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station.

Onboard were US and Japanese astronauts, who joined Russian and US crew already living aboard the ISS. As the Falcon 9 rocket soared into space, the collaborative, cooperative and commercial nature of space was once again clear for all to see.




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The US-Russian Space Station mission is a study in cooperation


Cooperation, not confrontation

The incoming Biden-Harris administration appears more interested in international cooperation, and much more cognisant of the challenges of climate change, pandemics and other global issues. A carefully calibrated space policy can do much to address “terrestrial” challenges, while still allowing for many positive space activities.

Since 1967, human activity in space has been guided by the universally accepted principles embedded in the Outer Space Treaty. This has ensured we have had no military conflict in space, and required the exploration and use of space “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries”.

Any alternative vision of the future of space is dreadful to consider. Rhetoric about the inevitability of “war in space” makes such conflict more likely and risks a “tragedy of the commons” in space.




Read more:
The US plan for a Space Force risks escalating a ‘space arms race’


Any space war would have no clear winner. In a complex, globally shared arena such as space, it is important that states abide by accepted rules and established practices.

The US has great scientific and technological advantages and a robust and competitive commercial space sector. Instead of seeking dominance, it can better serve the world (and itself) by focusing its leadership on harnessing space for the benefit of all humankind.

In a promising sign, Biden and Harris’s NASA review team is composed of an outstanding group of space scientists as well as a former astronaut.

The current administration re-established the National Space Council, which is chaired by the vice president, and this has reinvigorated American investment and leadership in space exploration. This includes an ambitious plan to return to the Moon under the terms of the Artemis Accords.

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi is greeted by astronaut Kate Rubins as he enters the International Space Station from the vestibule between the SpaceX Dragon capsule and the ISS.
NASA

Respect the rules

To ensure the fragile and shared domain of outer space does not become an arena for conflict, the rules that apply to any military uses of space need to be understood, respected and further developed. Failure to do so could lead to devastation, disruption and impact on civilian lives, particularly in the largest and most powerful countries like the US, whose economies and societies are heavily dependent on space infrastructure. Their access to space has given them the greatest competitive advantage, but they are therefore the most vulnerable if that access is compromised.

Space is a “congested, contested and competitive” area where scientific, commercial and economic interests converge, as well as military and national security concerns. In this sense space is like the radio frequency spectrum, which has been successfully regulated and managed for decades under international rules adopted through the International Telecommunication Union.

But space is also much more. As the recent Crew-1 mission demonstrated, there are significant benefits when nations come together and cooperate. Enlightened leadership, guided by commonly agreed laws and practices and a recognition that we share outer space as custodians for future generations, is the only realistic way forward.The Conversation

Steven Freeland, Professor of International Law, Western Sydney University; David Kuan-Wei Chen, Executive Director, Centre for Research in Air and Space Law, McGill University, and Ram S. Jakhu, Director, Institute of Air and Space Law, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New coins celebrate Indigenous astronomy, the stars, and the dark spaces between them



The Seven Sisters Uncirculated Coin.
Royal Australian Mint

Duane W. Hamacher, University of Melbourne

Two new coins have been released by the Royal Australian Mint to celebrate the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They feature artworks from Wiradjuri (NSW) and Yamaji (WA) artists that represent two of the most famous features in Aboriginal astronomy: the great Emu in the Sky and the Seven Sisters.

Both celestial features are found in the astronomical traditions of many Aboriginal cultures across Australia. They are seen in similar ways and have similar meanings between cultures on opposite sides of the continent and are observed to note the changing seasons and the behaviours of plants and animals and inform Law.

The project has been three years in the making, with the third and final coin in the series to be released in mid-2021.




Read more:
Kindred skies: ancient Greeks and Aboriginal Australians saw constellations in common


Gugurmin – The Emu in the Sky

The Wiradjuri of central New South Wales are the largest Aboriginal language group in the state and one of the largest in the country. Wiradjuri astronomical knowledge is rich and complex, linking the land and people to the cosmos (Wantanggangura). Traditional star knowledge features bright constellations of stars, as well as constellations comprising the spaces between the stars.

One of the many “dark constellations” is that of the celestial emu, called Gugurmin. The emu is a silhouette of the dark spaces stretching from the Southern Cross to Sagittarius in the backdrop of the Milky Way. The galaxy itself is a river called Gular (or Gilaa), which is also the Wiradjuri name of the Lachlan River.

Two decorative coins with Indigenous designs.
Two new uncirculated silver $1 coins commemorate Indigenous astronomy.
Royal Australian Mint



Read more:
Stories from the sky: astronomy in Indigenous knowledge


Wiradjuri watch when Gugurmin rises in the sky after sunset as a signal marking the emu’s behaviour patterns and changing seasons. When it rises at dusk in April and May, it signals the start of the emu breeding season, when the birds begin mating and nesting. By June and July, the male emus are sitting in the nest, incubating the eggs. In August and September, the chicks begin hatching.

The Emu in the Sky coin features the work of Wiradjuri artist Scott “Sauce” Towney from Peak Hill, NSW. Sauce specialises in drawing and pyrography (wood burning) and was a finalist in the NSW Premier’s Indigenous Art Awards. The edge of the coin shows a male emu sitting on the eggs during the months of June and July when his celestial counterpart is stretched across the sky. It also shows men dancing in a ceremony, which takes place in August and September.

Gugurmin was one of the artworks Sauce created for a project entitled Wiradjuri Murriyang (“Wiradjuri Sky World”). This featured 13 traditional constellations for use in local school education programs, as well as public outreach. His art was incorporated into the Stellarium planetarium software, enabling users around the world to see the movements of the stars from a Wiradjuri perspective.

Sauce’s work was incorporated into the Australian National Curriculum for the Year 7/8 module on digital technology and managing Indigenous astronomical knowledge.




Read more:
The stories behind Aboriginal star names now recognised by the world’s astronomical body


Nyarluwarri – The Seven Sisters

The artwork featured on the Seven Sisters coin is from Wajarri-Noongar artist Christine “Jugarnu” Collard of Yamaji Art. Christine was born and raised in Mullewa, Western Australia and paints under the name Jugarnu meaning “old woman” in the Wajarri language. The name was given to Christine by her now deceased Grandfather.

The Yamaji people of the Murchison region in Western Australia refer to the Pleiades star cluster as Nyarluwarri in the Wajarri language, representing seven sisters. When Nyarluwarri sits low on the horizon at sunset in April, the people know that emu eggs are ready for harvesting.

Seven Sisters painting by Christine Jugarnu Collard and the Pleiades star cluster.
Christine Collard, Yamaji Art

The story of the Seven Sisters tells of them fleeing to the sky to escape the advances of a man who wants to take one of the sisters as his wife. The man chases the sisters as they move from east to west each night, which appear to the northeast at dusk in November and set by April.

At the same time Nyarluwarri sets after the Sun in the west, the celestial emu (which is also featured in Yamaji traditions) rises in the southeast. Both serve as important seasonal markers.

The Seven Sisters and the Emu in the Sky were major themes in the Ilgarijiri – Things Belonging to the Sky art exhibition. This project saw radio astronomers and Yamaji artists come together to share knowledge under the stars at the site of the new Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.




Read more:
Indigenous culture and astrophysics: a path to reconciliation


The Conversation


Duane W. Hamacher, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Asteroid 2018 VP₁ may be heading for Earth. But there’s no need to worry



Asteroid 2018 VP1 itself is too small and far away to see clearly, so here’s an artist’s impression of a near-Earth object.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Jonti Horner, University of Southern Queensland

Social media around the world lit up over the weekend, discussing the possibility that an asteroid (known as 2018 VP₁) could crash into Earth on November 2.

It seemed only fitting. What better way to round off a year that has seen catastrophic floods, explosions, fires, and storms – and, of course, a global pandemic?

A massive planetesimal, smashing into Earth. Exactly what won’t happen on November 2 with 2018 VP₁…
NASA/Don Davis

But you can rest easy. The asteroid does not pose a threat to life on Earth. Most likely, it will sail harmlessly past our planet. At worst, it will burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere and create a firework show for some lucky Earthlings.

So, what’s the story?

Our story begins a couple of years ago, on November 3, 2018. That night, the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory in Southern California discovered a faint new “near-Earth asteroid” – an object whose orbit can approach, or cross, that of our planet.

Black and white photo of an asteroid.
The near-Earth asteroid Eros, which is thousands of times larger than 2018 VP₁.
NASA / JPL

At the time of its discovery, 2018 VP₁ was roughly 450,000 kilometres from Earth – a little farther than the average distance between Earth and the Moon (around 384,000km).

The asteroid was very faint, and hard to spot against the background stars. Astronomers were only able to watch it for 13 days, before it was too far from Earth to see.




Read more:
Why dangerous asteroids heading to Earth are so hard to detect


Based on that short series of observations, it became clear the asteroid is a kind of near-Earth object called an “Apollo asteroid”.

Apollo asteroids spend most of their time beyond Earth’s orbit, but swing inward across our planet’s orbit at the innermost part of their journey around the Sun. 2018 VP₁ takes two years to go around the Sun, swinging just inside Earth’s orbit every time it reaches “perihelion” (its closest approach to our star).

Diagram showing the intersecting orbits of asteroid 2018 VP₁ and Earth.
The orbit of asteroid 2018 VP₁ intersects Earth’s orbit once every two years.
NASA / JPL

Because 2018 VP₁’s orbit takes almost exactly two years, in 2020 (two years after discovery), it will once again pass close to Earth.

But how close will it come? Well, that’s the million-dollar question.

Anything from a collision to a very distant miss …

To work out an object’s exact path through the Solar system, and to predict where it will be in the future (or where it was in the past), astronomers need to gather observations.

We need at least three data points to estimate an object’s orbit – but that will only give us a very rough guess. The more observations we can get, and the longer the time period they span, the better we can tie down the orbit.

And that’s why the future of 2018 VP₁ is uncertain. It was observed 21 times over 13 days, which allows its orbit to be calculated fairly precisely. We know it takes 2 years (plus or minus 0.001314 years) to go around the Sun. In other words, our uncertainty in the asteroid’s orbital period is about 12 hours either way.

That’s actually pretty good, given how few observations were made – but it means we can’t be certain exactly where the asteroid will be on November 2 this year.




Read more:
Extinction alert: saving the world from a deadly asteroid impact


However, we can work out the volume of space within which we can be confident that the asteroid will lie at a given time. Imagine a huge bubble in space, perhaps 4 million km across at its largest. We can be very confident the asteroid will be somewhere in the bubble – but that’s about it.

What does that mean for Earth? Well, it turns out the closest approach between the two this year will be somewhere between a direct hit and an enormous miss – with the asteroid coming no closer than 3.7 million km!

We can also work out the likelihood the asteroid will hit Earth during this close approach. The odds are 0.41%, or roughly 1 in 240. In other words, by far the most likely outcome on November 2 is the asteroid will sail straight past us.

But what if it did hit us?

As the great Terry Pratchett once wrote, “Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten”. But have you ever heard someone say “It’s a 240-to-1 chance, but it might just work?”

So should we be worried?

Well, the answer here goes back to how hard it was to spot 2018 VP₁ in the first place. Based on how faint it was, astronomers estimate it’s only about 2 metres across. Objects that size hit Earth all the time.

Bigger asteroids do more damage, as we were spectacularly reminded back in February 2013, when an asteroid around 20 metres across exploded in the atmosphere above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

A collection of footage of the Chelyabinsk airburst, and its aftermath, on 15 Feb 2013.

The Chelyabinsk airburst was spectacular, and the shockwave damaged buildings and injured more than 1,500 people. But that was an object ten times the diameter of 2018 VP₁ – which means it was probably at least 1,000 times heavier, and could penetrate far further into the atmosphere before meeting its fiery end.




Read more:
Chelyabinsk meteor explosion a ‘wake-up call’, scientists warn


2018 VP₁ is so small it poses no threat. It would almost certainly burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere before it reached the ground. Most likely, it would detonate in an “airburst”, tens of kilometres above the ground – leaving only tiny fragments to drift down to the surface.

If 2018 VP₁ is particularly robust (a chunk of a metal asteroid, rather than a stony or icy one), it could make it to the ground – but even then, it is way too small to cause significant damage.

Having said that, the fireball as the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere would be spectacular. If we were really lucky, it might be captured on camera by the Global Fireball network (led by Curtin University).

A bright fireball, imaged by the Perenjori station of the Australian Desert Fireball Network. By observing fireballs like this from multiple locations, researchers can track down any fragments that make it down to the ground.
Wikipedia/Formanlv

With images of the fireball from several cameras, researchers could work out where any debris might fall and head out to recover it. A freshly fallen meteorite is a pristine fragment from which we can learn a great deal about the Solar system’s history.

The bottom line

It’s no wonder in a year like this that 2018 VP₁ has generated some excitement and media buzz.

But, most likely, November 3 will come around and nothing will have happened. 2018 VP₁ will have passed by, likely unseen, back to the depths of space.

Even if Earth is in the crosshairs, though, there’s nothing to worry about. At worst, someone, somewhere on the globe, will see a spectacular fireball – and people in the US might just get to see some spectacular pre-election fireworks.

A song that was definitely NOT written to describe 2018 VP₁!

Or to put it another way: “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”.The Conversation

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why outer space matters in a post-pandemic world



Department of Defence

Anna Moore, Australian National University

With all of the immense challenges we face on Earth this year, space can feel like an afterthought.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the hope of a growing space industry was palpable. Ribbons were cut, buildings were dedicated and Australia’s space industry was going to triple in size in just ten years. But a few weeks into March, Europe and then Australia were slowly grinding to a halt as the reality of COVID-19 set in.

Satellite images from ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission in space showed the extent to which the virus lockdown was affecting major cities.

Air pollution plummeted as countries went into lockdown.
ESA

Next came the dramatic global economic downturn that seemed certain to crush Australia’s space ambitions. Consultants began sending a flurry of email surveys to see how everyone in the industry was coping. How would this change the future of our nation’s newest dream?




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Suddenly, space is everywhere

Work in the space industry has always continued even under the most difficult circumstances. Missions take years to plan and launch. The global space industry has, out of necessity, always embraced uncertainty. Innovation will not stop. International cooperation is still strong. Missions are continuing.

The first test flight of a Europa-1 first stage rocket, a repurposed British Blue Streak missile, from Woomera, Australia, 5 June 1964.
ESA

It was just announced that the European Union is signing a billion-euro agreement with French global launch services company Arianespace, with the hope of injecting another 16 billion euros into the European space industry by 2027. This is big news for Australia’s space industry too. Our history with Arianespace goes back to its predecessor, which launched the Europa rocket for the first time ever in South Australia in 1964.

NASA and SpaceX are making headlines for the first trip to the International Space Station in a commercially built and operated American spacecraft with astronauts on board. China’s space program is rapidly developing and an upcoming mission could make it the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars.

Australia’s space capabilities

In this multinational mix, Australia has much to offer. We are currently leaders in advanced and quantum communication that would make deep space communication possible, as well as creating unhackable communications on Earth.

Our government has taken steps to realise these opportunities through its first round of funding to accelerate the industry and galvanise the future of our space agency.

Ten strategic space projects just received government funding to help Australia build relationships with other international space agencies. In defence funding announcements last week, space was highlighted as one of the five defence domains for a strong Australian Defence Force.

A quick recovery

We are now seeing some amazing post-COVID wins for Australia. Planet Innovation, a Melbourne-based company, was the only Australian manufacturer to be chosen by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make an innovative COVID ventilator. More than 300 companies around the world applied for the opportunity.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk suggested Hobart-based boat builder, Incat, could help build “floating, superheavy-class space ports for Mars, Moon and hypersonic travel around the Earth.” Fleet Space Technologies and Oz Minerals were just awarded a grant to use space technology in mineral exploration.

A few weeks ago, the Australian National University National Space Test Facility (NSTF) was the first non-COVID research facility at the university to reopen. Its first project was testing a piece of space equipment created by Australian company Gilmour Space Technologies that will fly on an Australian space mission in 2022.

Next, the NSTF team performed testing for Fleet Space Technologies, who drove their components from Adelaide to Canberra as there were no connecting flights. The NSTF has been continuously testing other space components for Australian missions since it reopened.

These are all hard-won successes in the face of COVID, and they speak volumes about the promise of Australia’s space industry.




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Space will help Australia recover

Our space industry also enables others. Space technologies are transferrable to Earth-bound sectors such as health and mining, and the industry helps economic recovery because it operates at many scales from small research projects to large multi-disciplinary initiatives.

Our nation is set to give rise to bespoke satellites that are proprietary to Australia. We will have our own satellite constellations to address critical issues like drought, water quality management and bushfires.

Our innovation will protect our sovereignty, and global space industry titans like NASA can see our promise with missions like Artemis: Moon to Mars.

Australia’s space industry began in uncertainty, and – despite bushfires, pandemics and massive change – it will succeed under uncertainty.The Conversation

Anna Moore, Director of The Australian National University Institute for Space and the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia has long valued an outer space shared by all. Mining profits could change this



moon.

Jeffrey McGee, University of Tasmania and Bin Li, University of Newcastle

Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order reaffirming that companies joining US mining activities on the moon would have property rights over lunar resources.

The order also made clear the US wasn’t bound by international treaties on the moon. Instead, the US would set up a bilateral or multilateral legal framework with other like-minded states to govern lunar mining activities.

This bold move by the Trump administration poses some challenging questions for Australia, given our past commitment to international space treaties and our current support the US Artemis lunar program.




Read more:
Giant leap for corporations? The Trump administration wants to mine resources in space, but is it legal?


Australia is a longstanding member of all five space treaties. Also, the terms “international” and “responsible” are two of the principles guiding the Australian Space Agency in designing and implementing its policies and programs.

As such, Australia will need to decide how it plans to respond to Trump’s move and how this will shape its future space policies. Will it continue to hold an “international” view toward the exploitation of resources from outer space?

Or can Australian companies “responsibly” take part in mining of the moon without contravening the country’s treaty obligations?

Space resources as a ‘common heritage of mankind’

The Trump administration’s proposal is potentially at odds with a key principle in the 1979 Moon Treaty known as the “common heritage of mankind” (CHM).

The CHM principle is an important part of other areas of international law, such as the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which sets restrictions on the mining of deep seabed areas that lie outside national marine boundaries. Specifically, it allows commercial mining, but only if the benefits are shared among different countries by the International Seabed Authority.

Under the Moon Treaty, the CHM principle similarly does not give exclusive property rights to any state or individual companies. Instead, it provides for the “equitable” international sharing of space resources.




Read more:
It’s not clear where Trump’s ‘Space Force’ fits within international agreement on peaceful use of space


The treaty also requires its state parties to negotiate international rules governing the exploitation and use of these resources.

As party to the Moon Treaty, Australia is obliged to follow these provisions. However, the US has never joined the treaty. It has criticised the CHM principle several times, and essentially does not support the idea of “equitable” sharing of space resources.

This is why the Trump administration is pursuing a separate framework to govern the exploitation and use of resources on the moon.

A difficult balancing act for Australia

There are now some concerns Australia could shift from its commitment to the CHM principle and side with the US view that states and companies should be permitted to freely exploit space resources.

Perhaps due to Australia’s obligations under the Moon Treaty, Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not say anything about the possibility of Australian involvement in mining on the moon when promising to support NASA’s Artemis program last September.




Read more:
All of humanity should share in the space mining boom


Instead, Morrison vaguely pledged $150 million investment into Australian businesses and new technologies to help the country become more competitive in the space industry and better support future US space missions to Mars and the moon.

However, NASA may be looking for a different type of collaboration with Australia, focused more on Australian mining capabilities.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told the Australian Financial Review last year that Australian mining companies could have a very specific role to play in space.

…the lunar missions will rely on turning hundreds of millions of tons of mined water ice recently discovered on the moon into liquid forms of hydrogen and oxygen to power spacecraft. That autonomous capability of extracting resources is something that Australia has in its toolkit.

Although there have been no clear messages from the Australian mining industry about whether they have interest in mining on the moon, companies such as Rio Tinto have already been developing the relevant technologies.




Read more:
Australia can pick up its game and land a Moon mission


When finalising a specific plan to implement its $150 million investment in space research, the Australian government needs to think carefully about how to comply with its treaty obligations, including CHM, while still supporting its approach to NASA’s lunar program.

Australia needs to decide what it values more – an outer space shared by all, or the profits from possible mining deals that come from a more exclusive approach to space.The Conversation

Jeffrey McGee, Associate Professor, University of Tasmania and Bin Li, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Space can solve our looming resource crisis – but the space industry itself must be sustainable


Richard Matthews, University of Adelaide

Australia’s space industry is set to grow into a multibillion-dollar sector that could provide tens of thousands of jobs and help replenish the dwindling stocks of precious resources on Earth. But to make sure they don’t flame out prematurely, space companies need to learn some key lessons about sustainability.

Sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Often this definition is linked to the economic need for growth. In our context, we link it to the social and material needs of our communities.

We cannot grow without limit. In 1972, the influential report The Limits to Growth argued that if society’s growth continued at projected rates, humans would experience a “sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity” by 2070. Recent research from the University of Melbourne’s sustainability institute updated and reinforced these conclusions.

Our insatiable hunger for resources increases as we continue to strive to improve our way of life. But how does our resource use relate to the space industry?




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Dig deep: Australia’s mining know-how makes it the perfect $150m partner for NASA’s Moon and Mars shots


There are two ways we could try to avert this forecast collapse: we could change our behaviour from consumption to conservation, or we could find new sources to replenish our stocks of non-renewable resources. Space presents an opportunity to do the latter.

Asteroids provide an almost limitless opportunity to mine rare earth metals such as gold, cobalt, nickle and platinum, as well as the resources required for the future exploration of our solar system, such as water ice. Water ice is crucial to our further exploration efforts as it can be refined into liquid water, oxygen, and rocket fuel.

But for future space missions to top up our dwindling resources on Earth, our space industries themselves must be sustainable. That means building a sustainable culture in these industries as they grow.

How do we measure sustainability?

Triple bottom-line accounting is one of the most common ways to assess the sustainability of a company, based on three crucial areas of impact: social, environmental, and financial. A combined framework can be used to measure performance in these areas.

In 2006, UTS sustainable business researcher Suzanne Benn and her colleagues introduced a method for assessing the corporate sustainability of an organisation in the social and environmental areas. This work was extended in 2014 by her colleague Bruce Perrott to include the financial dimension.

This model allows the assessment of an organisation based on one of six levels of sustainability. The six stages, in order, are: rejection, non-responsiveness, compliance, efficiency, strategic proactivity, and the sustaining corporation.

Sustainability benchmarking the space industry

In my research, which I presented this week at the Australian Space Research Conference in Adelaide, I used these models to assess the sustainability of the American space company SpaceX.

Using freely available information about SpaceX, I benchmarked the company as compliant (level 3 of 6) within the sustainability framework.

While SpaceX has been innovative in designing ways to travel into space, this innovation has not been for environmental reasons. Instead, the company is focused on bringing down the cost of launches.

SpaceX also relies heavily on government contracts. Its profitability has been questioned by several analysts with the capital being raised through the use of loans and the sale of future tickets in the burgeoning space tourism industry. Such a transaction might be seen as an exercise in revenue generation, but accountants would classify such a sale as a liability.

The growing use of forward sales is a growing concern for the industry, with other tourism companies such as Virgin Galactic failing to secure growth. It has been reported that Virgin Galactic will run out of customers by 2023 due to the high costs associated with space travel.




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SpaceX’s culture also rates poorly for sustainability. As at many startups, employees at SpaceX are known to work more than 80 hours a week without taking their mandatory breaks. This problem was the subject of a lawsuit settled in 2017. Such behaviour contravenes Goal 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to achieve “decent work for all”.

What’s next?

Australia is in a unique position. As the newest player in the global space industry, the investment opportunity is big. The federal government predicts that by 2030, the space sector could be a A$12 billion industry employing 20,000 people.

Presentations at the Australian Space Research Conference by the Australian Space Agency made one thing clear: regulation is coming. We can use this to gain a competitive edge.




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By embedding sustainability principles into emerging space startups, we can avoid the economic cost of having to correct bad behaviours later.

We will gain the first-mover advantage on implementing these principles, which will in turn increase investor confidence and improve company valuations.

To ensure that the space sector can last long enough to provide real benefits for Australia and the world, its defining principle must be sustainability.The Conversation

Richard Matthews, Research Associate | Councillor, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dig deep: Australia’s mining know-how makes it the perfect $150m partner for NASA’s Moon and Mars shots


Andrew Dempster, UNSW

In the wake of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s meeting with US President Donald Trump, the Australian government announced on Sunday a commitment of A$150million “into our local businesses and new technologies that will support NASA on its inspirational campaign to return to the Moon and travel to Mars”.

It is unclear at this point where the government intends to spend this money, but there’s no harm in some reflective speculation.




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Because this new commitment is to deep space missions, clearly it is separate from the A$245 million being invested in Australia’s Smartsat Cooperative Research Centre or the A$4.5 million for the Centre for Cubesats, UAVs and their Applications, both of which are generally looking at applications in Earth orbit.

The funding should also be separate from that committed to two Australian Space Agency initiatives: the A$6 million Mission Control Centre for South Australia, and the A$4.5 million Robotics, Automation and Artificial Intelligence Command and Control Centre for Western Australia. Both of these centres could, however, be used in any planned Moon and Mars initiatives.

The funding allocation should also not include the money already committed to space projects by CSIRO under its Space Technology Future Science Platforms initiative.

Where should it be spent?

In thinking about where the money can be spent, it’s worth noting the brief is explicitly to “support NASA”. So, where could Australia help?

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, centrepiece of the Artemis mission, will need lots of technical support.
NASA

NASA’s two main lunar initiatives are the Lunar Gateway and Project Artemis, both of which have been mentioned in relation to Australia’s funding pledge. Mars may be the long-term destination, but the Moon is where it’s at right now.

The Lunar Gateway is infrastructure: a spacecraft placed in a halo orbit (always in view of Earth) that is sometimes as close as 3,000km to the Moon’s surface. It will be used as a hub for astronauts, equipment and communications, and a staging post for lunar landings and returns.

Artemis aims to use NASA’s large new rocket, the Space Launch System, to deliver astronauts, including the first woman to walk on the Moon, to the lunar surface by 2024. It will develop a host of new technologies and is openly collaborative.




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One contribution that cannot be ignored in this context is the technology emerging from Australia’s dominant mining industry. The strength in robotics, automation and remote operations has led to the above-mentioned robotics centre being slated for WA. What’s more, the Australian Remote Operations in Space and on Earth institute, a wide-ranging industry collaboration launched in July, is also likely to be headquartered in WA.

Another area where Australia is developing interesting technology is in optical communications with spacecraft, being driven by research at the Australian National University. At a recent CSIRO workshop to develop “flagship” missions for Australia, the idea of using lasers to beam communications rapidly to the Moon and back was highly rated.

Putting ideas out there

Of the nine possible flagships considered, seven are potentially relevant to the new funding. These include a space weather satellite, an asteroid detection system, a cubesat to Mars, a radiotelescope on the Moon, and a solar sail that could power spacecraft to the Moon. There are plenty of good Australian ideas around.

However, the flagship most closely related to the content of the announcement was a project proposal (disclosure: it’s mine!) that would place an orbiter around the Moon and design a lander/rover to establish our ability to extract water from permanent ice. Water can be used for many things in a settlement, and when split into hydrogen and oxygen it can be used as rocket fuel to move things around, including to Mars.




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All of our research in this area has focused on how this can be done in a commercial way, very much in line with the philosophy of “Space 2.0”. We are putting together a significant team of academics, companies (not just mining and space ones), and agencies to pursue these missions seriously.

There has never been a better time to be working in the space sector in Australia. I and all of my colleagues in the field hope the latest announcement is the next step in establishing the vibrant, sustainable space industry so many in Australia now see as achievable.The Conversation

Andrew Dempster, Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

India has it right: nations either aim for the Moon or get left behind in the space economy



India’s Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission blasts off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, on 22 July 2019.
Indian Space Research Organisation/EPA

Nicholas Borroz, University of Auckland

India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft has settled into lunar orbit, ahead of its scheduled Moon landing on September 7. If it succeeds India will join a very select club, now comprising the former Soviet Union, the United States and China.

As with all previous Moon missions, national prestige is a big part of India’s Moon shot. But there are some colder calculations behind it as well. Space is poised to become a much bigger business, and both companies and countries are investing in the technological capability to ensure they reap the earthly rewards.

Last year private investment in space-related technology skyrocketed to US$3.25 billion, according to the London-based Seraphim Capital – a 29% increase on the previous year.

The list of interested governments is also growing. Along with China and India joining the lunar A-list, in the past decade eight countries have founded space agencies – Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon on 11 January 2019. This image taken with the lander’s camera shows the mission’s lunar rover Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit 2.
China National Space Administration/EPA

Of prime interest is carving out a piece of the market for making and launching commercial payloads. As much as we already depend on satellites now, this dependence will only grow.

In 2018 382 objects were launched into space. By 2040 it might easily be double that, with companies like Amazon planning “constellations”, composed of thousands of satellites, to provide telecommunication services.

The satellite business is just a start. The next big prize will be technology for “in-situ resource utilisation” – using materials from space for space operations. One example is extracting water from the Moon (which could also be split to provide oxygen and hydrogen-based rocket fuel). NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, has suggested Australian agencies and companies could play a key role in this.




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All up, the potential gains from a slice of the space economy are huge. It is estimated the space economy could grow from about US$350 billion now to more than US$1 trillion (and as possibly as much US$2,700 billion) in 2040.

Launch affordability

At the height of its Apollo program to land on the Moon, NASA got more than 4% of the US federal budget. As NASA gears up to return to the Moon and then go to Mars, its budget share is about 0.5%.

In space money has most definitely become an object. But it’s a constraint that’s spurring innovation and opening up economic opportunities.

NASA pulled the pin on its space shuttle program in 2011 when the expected efficiencies of a resusable launch vehicle failed to pan out. Since then it has bought seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to get its astronauts into space. It is now paying SpaceX, the company founded by electric car king Elon Musk, to deliver space cargo.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft just moments after undocking from the International Space Station on 8 March 2019.
NASA/EPA

SpaceX’s stellar trajectory, having entered the business a little more than a decade ago, demonstrates the possibilities for new players.

To get something into orbit using the space shuttle cost about US$54,500 a kilogram. SpaceX says the cost of its Falcon 9 rocket and reuseable Dragon spacecraft is about US$2,700 a kilogram. With costs falling, the space economy is poised to boom.




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Choosing a niche

As the space economy grows, it’s likely different countries will come to occupy different niches. Specialisation will be the key to success, as happens for all industries.

In the hydrocarbon industry, for instance, some countries extract while others process. In the computer industry, some countries design while others manufacture.
There will be similar niches in space. Governments’ policies will play a big part in determining which nation fills which niche.

There are three ways to think about niches.

First, function. A country could focus on space mining, for instance, or space observation. It could act as a space communication hub, or specialise in developing space-based weapons.

Luxembourg is an example of functional specialisation. Despite its small size, it punches above its weight in the satellite industry. Another example is Russia, which for now has the monopoly on transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.

Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin flanked by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, as they prepare for their launch aboard the Soyuz MS-12 in March 2019.
Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

Second, value-adding. A national economy can focus on lower or higher value-add processes. In telecommunications, for example, much of the design work is done in the United States, while much of the manufacturing happens in China. Both roles have benefits and drawbacks.

Third, blocs. Global production networks sometimes fragment. One can already see the potential for this happening between the United States and China. If it occurs, other countries must either align with one bloc or remain neutral.

Aligning with a large power ensures patronage, but also dependence. Being between blocs has its risks, but also provides opportunities to gain from each bloc and act as an intermediary.




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The first space race, between the Soviet Union and the United States, was singularly driven by political will and government policy. The new space race is more complex, with private players taking the lead in many ways, but government priorities and policy are still crucial. They will determine which countries reach the heights, and which get left behind.The Conversation

Nicholas Borroz, PhD candidate in international business and comparative political economy, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia can pick up its game and land a Moon mission



The ‘Stairway to the Moon’ as seen from Western Australia.
Flickr/Gary Tindale, CC BY

Andrew Dempster, UNSW

Now all the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing have died down it’s worth considering where we are with future lunar missions half a century on.

Australia has long played a role in space exploration beyond helping to bring those historic images of the first moonwalk to our television screens back in 1969.

Labor MP Peter Khalil has already called for Australia to be involved in a mission to the Moon, and later to Mars. He is co-chair of the recently reformed Parliamentary Friends of Space, along with the National’s MP Kevin Hogan.




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But there is plenty of interest from others in going to the Moon.

The new Moon race

Only last month, India launched its Chandrayaan 2 mission that’s already orbited the Moon and due to land there on September 7.

China recently landed Chang’e-4 on the far side of the Moon while Israel almost succeeded in landing its Beresheet probe.

NASA has committed to sending people to the Moon again by 2024, and to significant lunar infrastructure such as the lunar Gateway, lunar landers and companies to deliver payloads to the Moon.

There is no doubt the Moon has once more captured the world’s interest. One of the reasons for this is human exploration, and that a Moon presence is now recognised as being essential to any future mission to Mars.

Water on the Moon

Another is the presence of water on the Moon, and the usefulness of water for all sorts of reasons in space.

By the time we hosted the second Off-Earth Mining Forum in 2015, it was clear water was the space resource of most immediate interest.

But the companies that existed at that time were mainly looking to source that water from asteroids. It has only been in the past two years that companies like iSpace have come to the fore, aiming at extracting water from the Moon.

Australia has reacted quite quickly to this evolving environment. Only last month, the first workshop met to establish a Remote Operations Institute in Western Australia to look at operating automated machines at a distance – remote mines and space.

The CSIRO identified nine potential “nation-building” flagship space missions, of which four relate to the Moon. One (disclosure, championed by me) is an orbiter and lander aimed at extracting water, but the other three could all support such a mission. Of those nine, four (including mine) have been selected for further examination at a workshop in mid-August in Brisbane.

Since January, we have been working on the Wilde project, where we have re-focussed our space resources research towards the permanently shadowed craters at the Moon’s poles, where water is highly likely to occur in acceptable concentrations.

We are also looking to reduce the risk of investing in a water extraction venture, including the design of orbiter and lander missions.

Explosion of Aussie interest

These Australian initiatives are all being driven in part by the explosion of the Australian space sector. One symptom of this is the establishment of the Australian Space Agency. The agency’s very existence and its promise have further emboldened space businesses and researchers.

But more than a year after its founding we still await any real missions, or commitment to upstream projects (upstream in space projects means those that are actually in space – those great Australian contributions to Apollo were all on the ground – downstream).

The other important driver for the new space projects mentioned above is that Australia has such a strong mining industry, and that so much mining innovation is created in Australia.




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As disciplines, space and mining have a lot in common: both involve complex engineering systems, work in hostile environments, and human control is increasingly handed over to autonomous robotics. Exploiting resources in space represents a genuine opportunity for Australia to establish a niche around which a sustainable space industry can be built.

So now is a perfect time for Australia to consider a new Moon mission. The industry is growing rapidly and a flagship mission would give it something around which to build.

Our special expertise in resource extraction offers a unique opportunity, which others have only just started to pursue. And a community of companies and researchers has been gathered for the task.

Hopefully it won’t be another 50 years before Australia has its own presence on the Moon.The Conversation

Andrew Dempster, Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.