Our ability to manufacture minerals could transform the gem market, medical industries and even help suck carbon from the air



Pictured is a slag pile at Broken Hill in New South Wales. Slag is a man-made waste product created during smelting.
Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Author provided

Anita Parbhakar-Fox, The University of Queensland and Paul Gow, The University of Queensland

Last month, scientists uncovered a mineral called Edscottite. Minerals are solid, naturally occurring substances that are not living, such as quartz or haematite. This new mineral was discovered after an examination of the Wedderburn Meteorite, a metallic-looking rock found in Central Victoria back in 1951.

Edscottite is made of iron and carbon, and was likely formed within the core of another planet. It’s a “true” mineral, meaning one which is naturally occurring and formed by geological processes either on Earth or in outer-space.

But while the Wedderburn Meteorite held the first-known discovery of Edscottite, other new mineral discoveries have been made on Earth, of substances formed as a result of human activities such as mining and mineral processing. These are called anthropogenic minerals.

While true minerals comprise the majority of the approximately 5,200 known minerals, there are about 208 human-made minerals which have been approved as minerals by the International Mineralogical Association.

Some are made on purpose and others are by-products. Either way, the ability to manufacture minerals has vast implications for the future of our rapidly growing population.

Modern-day alchemy

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face. While governments debate the future of coal-burning power stations, carbon dioxide continues to be released into the atmosphere. We need innovative strategies to capture it.

Actively manufacturing minerals such as nesquehonite is one possible approach. It has applications in building and construction, and making it requires removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.




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Nesquehonite occurs naturally when magnesian rocks slowly break down. It has been identified at the Paddy’s River mine in the Australian Capital Territory and locations in New South Wales.

But scientists discovered it can also be made by passing carbon dioxide into an alkaline solution and having it react with magnesium chloride or sodium carbonate/bicarbonate.

This is a growing area of research.

Other synthetic minerals such as hydrotalcite are produced when asbestos tailings passively absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, as discovered by scientists at the Woodsreef asbestos mine in New South Wales.

You could say this is a kind of “modern-day alchemy” which, if taken advantage of, could be an effective way to suck carbon dioxide from the air at a large scale.

Meeting society’s metal demands

Mining and mineral processing is designed to recover metals from ore, which is a natural occurrence of rock or sediment containing sufficient minerals with economically important elements. But through mining and mineral processing, new minerals can also be created.

Smelting is used to produce a range of commodities such as lead, zinc and copper, by heating ore to high temperatures to produce pure metals.

The process also produces a glass-like waste product called slag, which is deposited as molten liquid, resembling lava.

This is a backscattered electron microscope image of historical slag collected from a Rio Tinto mine in Spain.
Image collected by Anita Parbhakar-Fox at the University of Tasmania (UTAS)

Once cooled, the textural and mineralogical similarities between lava and slag are crystal-clear.

Micro-scale inspection shows human-made minerals in slag have a unique ability to accommodate metals into their crystal lattice that would not be possible in nature.

This means metal recovery from mine waste (a potential secondary resource) could be an effective way to supplement society’s growing metal demands. The challenge lies in developing processes which are cost effective.




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Ethically-sourced jewellery

Our increasing knowledge on how to manufacture minerals may also have a major impact on the growing synthetic gem manufacturing industry.

In 2010, the world was awestruck by the engagement ring given to Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, valued at about £300,000 (AUD$558,429).

The ring has a 12-carat blue sapphire, surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds, with a setting made from 18-carat white gold.

Replicas of it have been acquired by people across the globe, but for only a fraction of the price. How?

In 1837, Marc Antoine Gardin demonstrated that sapphires (mineralogically known as corundum or aluminium oxide) can be replicated by reacting metals with other substances such as chromium or boric acid. This produces a range of seemingly identical coloured stones.

On close examination, some properties may vary such as the presence of flaws and air bubbles and the stone’s hardness. But only a gemologist or gem enthusiast would likely notice this.

Diamonds can also be synthetically made, through either a high pressure, high temperature, or chemical vapour deposition process.

Synthetic diamonds have essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure and physical properties as natural diamonds.
Instytut Fizyki Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego

Creating synthetic gems is increasingly important as natural stones are becoming more difficult and expensive to source. In some countries, the rights of miners are also violated and this poses ethical concerns.

Medical and industrial applications

Synthetic gems have industrial applications too. They can be used in window manufacturing, semi-conducting circuits and cutting tools.

One example of an entirely manufactured mineral is something called yttrium aluminum garnet (or YAG) which can be used as a laser.

In medicine, these lasers are used to correct glaucoma. In dental surgery, they allow soft gum and tissues to be cut away.

The move to develop new minerals will also support technologies enabling deep space exploration through the creation of ‘quantum materials’.

Quantum materials have unique properties and will help us create a new generation of electronic products, which could have a significant impact on space travel technologies. Maybe this will allow us to one day visit the birthplace of Edscottite?




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In decades to come, the number of human-made minerals is set to increase. And as it does, so too does the opportunity to find new uses for them.

By expanding our ability to manufacture minerals, we could reduce pressure on existing resources and find new ways to tackle global challenges.The Conversation

Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Senior Research Fellow in Geometallurgy/Applied Geochemistry, The University of Queensland and Paul Gow, Principal Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

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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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.

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.

To be a rising star in the space economy, Australia should also look to the East



Diversifying its space partners could help Australia avoid getting pushed around by the space rivalry of China and the United States.
Alex Cherney/CSIRO/EPA

Nicholas Borroz, University of Auckland

The UK’s space agency is already planning for spaceflights to Australia, taking just 90 minutes. This week it announced the site of its first “spaceport”.

Where exactly a spacecraft might land in Australia is still anyone’s guess.

Australia wants to become a bona fide space power in the emerging space economy – exemplified by the rise of private space companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and others.

But the UK Space Agency’s well-developed plans to build Europe’s first spaceport in Cornwall, southwest England, as well as another to launch rockets carrying micro-satellites in Sutherland, north Scotland, shows the Australian venture has a lot more groundwork to do.




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The Australian government founded the Australian Space Agency just one year ago. It is about to invest tens of millions of dollars in international space projects.

But right now, it could be argued, it has a large problem: How will Australia connect to the rest of the international space economy?

Focused on old friends

Before the Australian Space Agency was founded, Australia’s main international relations regarding outer space were with the United States and some European countries. It has long hosted ground stations for NASA and the European Space Agency.

It has cooperated with other international partners to a lesser extent. The most notable project is the Square Kilometre Array, an astronomy project being built in Australia and South Africa. International partners include Canada, China, India and New Zealand.

Though Australia has indicated it wants to “open doors internationally” for space partnerships, so far it has been focused on building up ties with its old friends in the US and Europe.

The Australian Space Agency has been talking to NASA about cooperation, including on NASA’s Lunar Gateway effort to build a permanent presence on the Moon. It has signed statements of strategic intent with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two large American aerospace firms that are NASA contractors. A private northern Australian rocket launch company reports it is negotiating to launch NASA sounding rockets next year.




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The US communications firm Viasat plans to build a ground station near Alice Springs. American universities are the only foreign partners of Australia’s newly opened CubeSat and unmanned aerial vehicle research centre, CUAVA.

With the Europeans, the Australian Space Agency has signed memoranda of understanding with France and Britain. The Italian space company SITAEL has expanded to Adelaide, where the Australian Space Agency is based. The federal government’s new SmartSat cooperative research centre has a consortium of nearly 100 industry and research partners. One is the European aerospace giant Airbus, with which the Australian Space Agency has also signed a statement of strategic intent.

These are still early days, but outside of partnerships with the Americans and Europeans, the only major international developments since the Australian Space Agency’s founding are with Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

Ties with China and India

So should Australia diversify its relations?

On the one hand, tying Australia’s space economy to the Americans and Europeans makes sense. Both have large markets and developed space industries. Close ties to both will likely ensure a steady stream of business.

On the other hand, there are benefits to pursuing a new type of multilateralism that is less US- or Euro-centric.

Through the Square Kilometre Array project, Australia has links with China and India. Compared to the Americans and Europeans, these two countries have different competitive strengths in the global space industry.




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Positioning between them could put Australia in a unique place in the global production networks of space science and technology. This is particularly so if relations between some of these larger players are distant (the United States and China, for example). Australia could benefit from being a go-between.

Australia could also choose to supplement these larger relationships with ties to smaller countries. Especially with other new entrants into the space economy – New Zealand established a space agency in 2016, for example – there are common points of interest.

All are likely to want to diversify relationships with big space powers and not be pushed into dealing with just one or another. Again, friction between the United States and China comes to mind. Smaller space powers could band together to maintain their ability to make their own independent decisions.

There is no right answer about how Australia should proceed with international engagement in the space economy. More accurately, there are different right answers depending on what sort of space power Australia ultimately wants to become.

Australia’s space agency is just one year old. The country does not need to automatically continue its Western orientation. It can instead recreate itself as a truly international actor in the new space economy.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.

Linda Reynolds appointed to defence industry and cabinet



File 20190301 110130 97lgfx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Linda Reynolds replaces Steve Ciobo as defence industry minister.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

With the resignations of the two ministers now formally confirmed, Scott Morrison has announced that Western Australian senator Linda Reynolds will become Minister for Defence Industry, with Ciobo stepping down at once from that position.

If the government is re-elected Reynolds, who has a background in the Army Reserve, will be the new defence minister. Pyne will remain in the defence job until the election.

Reynolds will be immediately elevated to cabinet, bringing the number of women in cabinet to seven.

Her pre-election promotion has an eye to the government’s so-called
“women problem” – much negative attention has been focussed on the low
level of female representation in its parliamentary ranks.

Currently an assistant minister, Reynolds will retain her responsibility for emergency management. In this role, she has been at Morrison’s side on his visits to the flood areas.

Morrison said in a statement: “When you can call up a brigadier, in the form of Linda Reynolds, to take on the role of defence minister, it shows we have a lot of talent on our bench to draw from”.

He said it was Pyne’s responsibility to continue to manage strategic issues through the election period. “This will ensure a consistency in our approach and the opportunity for a seamless handover to minister Reynolds, should we be successful at the election.

“As a cabinet minister in the defence portfolio minster Reynolds will also have a unique opportunity to transfer into the role in the event the government is re-elected”.

He said the appointment of Reynolds would bring the number of women in cabinet to the highest of any cabinet since federation.

In a 29-year Army Reserve career, Reynolds served in many part and full-time positions. Attaining the rank of brigadier in 2012, she became the first woman in the Australian Army reserves to be promoted to a star rank.

Reynolds said: “My background has prepared me well for this new role”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia needs boldness and bravery from Karen Andrews, the new minister for industry, science and technology


Emma Johnston, UNSW

It’s almost a year since Australia had a named science minister in Cabinet.

Now the role has been revived, following a weekend ministerial reshuffle after Scott Morrison became the new Australian prime minister.

Today Karen Andrews was sworn in as minister for industry, science and technology, and she joins the cabinet for the first time.




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I believe the incoming minister is likely to be a strong advocate and effective representative for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector. She should have solid support from some key members of cabinet who have a track record of supporting STEM, such as Josh Frydenberg (treasurer), Michaelia Cash (now minister for small and family business, skills and vocational education), and Greg Hunt (minister for health).

But this is a complex portfolio and as a new member she will need to work hard to build cabinet-wide support for solutions to key challenges in the sector.

Andrews is the member for McPherson, an electorate in southern Queensland. She has held the seat since her election in 2010, joining politics as a graduate of mechanical engineering and following a career in human resources and industrial relations.




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Active in STEM

During her eight years in parliament, Andrews has shown an avid interest in science and technology.

Previously assistant minister for vocational education and skills, and before that assistant minister for science, Andrews is the co-founder and co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Science group alongside shadow minister for defence Richard Marles.

She has attended Science meets Parliament for many years and participates in Science and Technology Australia’s STEM Ambassador program.

Andrews has promoted the value of STEM education, voiced her support for the potential for nuclear power for Australia, and publicly encouraged vaccination.




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In a recent interview she said,

I am very keen that my parliamentary colleagues understand science, technology, engineering and maths and the importance of evidence-based decision making. We all need to make sure we are making decisions based on evidence, not opinions.

We need a better plan

Despite some recent positive actions, Australia still lacks a strong, comprehensive and long-term whole-of-government plan for the STEM sector.

The government showed support for STEM with the release of their National Research Infrastructure Investment Plan, additional funding for supercomputing facilities, and through the establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund.

Given the excellent returns on investment in research and development, it is crucial that similarly bold, and long-term, approaches to investment in both basic and applied non-medical scientific research are soon to follow.

It has been noted that while around A$2 billion has been saved over four years by the government’s changes to the research and development (R&D) tax incentive arrangements, none of that saving has been put towards the recommended premium on industry R&D partnerships with public research institutions.

The sector still faces many challenges in increasing equity, diversity and inclusion. The government has shown support for women in STEM, through the women in STEM and entrepreneurship grants scheme and refunding of the Superstars of STEM program.

However, we can do more to reduce harassment and bullying – and to support Indigenous scientists, LGBTQIA+ scientists and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.




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I hope to see expansion from the government’s vision outlined in the National Science Statement, that outlines a role for the sector more broadly, along with clear and measurable priorities and goals. This will allow Australian science and technology to move forward with more confidence and purpose.

Similarly, it’s important for Australia to address a shortage in STEM skills, an issue that was highlighted by Andrews in 2015.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are predicted to be the fastest growing industries globally (it’s estimated up to 75% of the fastest growing occupations will require STEM skills), and Australia has to prepare accordingly. We must reverse our declining participation and performance in STEM subjects.

Policy informed by evidence

Finally, it’s important that as the spokesperson for science and technology in cabinet, Andrews is a bold and brave advocate for policy informed by evidence.

In a 2009 speech by the then Productivity Commission Chairman, Professor Gary Banks, emphasised the importance of evidence-based policy, especially in regard to long-term and complex environmental, social and economic challenges.

Instances such as the Higher-Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) and the shift to inflation targeting monetary policy are just two examples of long-term policy being developed from a strong evidence base. It is clear that further investment in evidence-based policy formation is required.




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With a new minister, and a new voice in cabinet to promote science and evidence, I am more optimistic about the future of Australian science and technology.

Having a representative that is qualified, demonstrably passionate, and who is engaged with the STEM sector at all levels, gives us hope that we will see visionary leadership and strength from the member for McPherson.

I look forward to continuing to work with the government to make STEM a top priority for Australia, and ensure that our scientists and technologists play a key role in the nation’s future environment, health, wealth and well-being.The Conversation

Emma Johnston, Professor and Dean of Science, UNSW

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

Yes we’ve got a space agency – but our industry needs ‘Space Prize Australia’


File 20180627 112634 97qm4f.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A launch like this could happen from Australian soil – with the right investment.
from www.shutterstock.com

Duncan Blake, University of Adelaide

The Australian Space Agency commenced operations on July 1 2018 with the ambition of tripling the Australian space economy by 2030.

But with the Australian government investment of A$41 million, we should not expect anything like NASA (which has a budget more than 2,000 times greater).

On the contrary, the impetus for growth must come from the Australian space industry itself – and that’s why “Space Prize Australia” can work.




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The space industry in Australia is currently characterised by many small, independent and disparate enterprises in niche areas. Surviving in an increasingly competitive global market will require collaboration, pooled experience, and teamwork. In addition to the space agency, we need something to galvanise Australian enterprises in the space industry.

But turning new technology into marketable commodities is a risky enterprise. Along that journey, a prize provides the opportunity to gain financial rewards for demonstrated achievement of milestones. It provides context to draw the attention of potential clients to the prospective commodities of Australian space start-ups.

In the model of previously successful prizes in aeronautics and space, Space Prize Australia could drive an Australian space launch – where the satellite, components, launch vehicle, launch facility, operation, ground control station and user applications all come from Australia.

The Great Air Race

On 19 March 1919 the government of Prime Minister Billy Hughes announced a £10,000 prize for the first successful flight from the UK to Australia in an aircraft manned by Australians, for the purpose of “stimulating aerial activity”.

It was known as the Great Air Race, and within five months of the announcement, six groups of former WWI airmen and their aircraft had formally registered to compete in the race.

Four Australians – Captain Ross Smith, Lieutenant Keith Smith, Sergeant Wally Shiers, and Sergeant James Bennett – won the prize:

Smith and his team landed at Fannie Bay Airfield in Darwin at 4.12 p.m. on December 10, 1919 and were instantly mobbed by almost the entire population of just under 1,500. Lieutenant Hudson Fysh, soon to be co-founder of the newly formed Qantas, was the first to greet the four airmen.

Their trip was a bold demonstration of what Australians could do. It connected us to the global economy and community, put Australia at the forefront of global aviation, and provided inspiration and energy for the Australian aviation industry.




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Other space prizes

The Great Air Race and others like it were the inspiration for more recent prizes, specifically in the space industry.

The Ansari X Prize was initiated in 1996 at a value of US$10 million. It was designed to reward the first non-government organisation to launch a reusable manned rocket into space twice within two weeks. The prize was won in 2004 by the Scaled Composites company led by Burt Rutan.

The Ansari X Prize resulted in the first non-government launch of a reusable rocket into space twice in two weeks.

Of greater significance is that it was estimated to have generated US$100 million in new technologies investments. The winning technology was licensed to the newly created Virgin Galactic, and Scaled Composites was later sold to aerospace and defence firm Northrop Grumman.

With an initial target date of March 31 2018, the Google Lunar X Prize included rewards totalling US$30 million for the first privately funded team to place a spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 metres and transmit high definition video and images back to Earth.

Interim prizes were awarded, but no team was able to meet the challenge by the deadline. Nevertheless, it is estimated that it generated over US$300 million in investments.

Let’s get started

Space Prize Australia is, at this stage, a proposal: no one has committed the funds. However, it has the capacity not just to galvanise our space industry enterprises, but also to inspire the Australian population broadly – just as the Great Air Race did.

It could start with crowd-funding – so that everyday Australians can have a stake in the Australian space industry – and with philanthropy from wealthier individuals or groups.

State governments may be interested. The states and territories have already demonstrated interest in and commitment to attracting space industry to their cities, and are seeking further opportunities to do so.




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Step up Australia, we need a traffic cop in space


Federal government agencies could chip in too. As well as the Australian Space Agency, Defence, Geoscience Australia, CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology would benefit from the development of an Australian capability to launch Australian satellites on Australian rockets from Australian sites and operate them from Australian facilities.

It is impossible to say how much could be raised as a prize pool from all those sources. But if it could be announced on 19 March 2019 – the 100th anniversary of the announcement of the Great Air Race – then AU$10m would seem apt. It’s a figure of comparable significance to the £10,000 prize offered in 1919, and would be sufficient to attract several competitive teams.

The world was captivated by the launch of Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018.
blakespot/flickr, CC BY

Inspiration matters

Space Prize Australia would provide an opportunity for Australian space enterprises to demonstrate their technology, with financial and other support.

The prize would be a means to encourage and facilitate collaboration – potentially with benefits even for enterprises that don’t win.




Read more:
No launch from Australia: something missing from our plans for the new space race


The prize could be used, in part, to send the winners on a global tour, to meet with major clients, attend several major events and promote what Australia can do.

It would attract global attention and inspiration and it would showcase Australian space capability to the world.

The ConversationPerhaps most importantly, it could inspire every Australian girl, boy, man and woman who looks up at the sky at night and wonders what she or he can achieve.

Duncan Blake, PhD candidate, law and military uses of outer space, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Small sats are vital to Australia’s space industry – and they won’t be space junk



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Small satellites are launched to Low Earth Orbit – and then eventually burn up.
from www.shutterstock.com

Michael Smart, The University of Queensland

Today the federal government released its response to the review of Australia’s Space Capability.

Among the details regarding the establishment of Australia’s first space agency, and a national space industry strategy, it is clear that small satellites will have a place in our space future.

The following recommendations were marked as “supported” or “supported in principle”:

  • Australia should […] take advantage of the global space technology paradigm
    shift towards constellations of miniaturised spacecraft for communications and Earth observations

  • […] the Agency [should facilitate] regulatory approval processes for small satellite launch facilities in Australia and the launch of Australian satellites overseas.

But won’t all these new satellites just make the current space junk problem even worse?

Luckily, the answer is no. And it’s due to the satellite “self-cleaning zone” that surrounds Earth.




Read more:
Trash or treasure? A lot of space debris is junk, but some is precious heritage


How satellites stay in orbit

For a satellite to remain in orbit around Earth, it must have a velocity of at least 7.9km per second, and must not drop below approximately 200km altitude in any part of its orbit.

If its velocity or its orbit is too low, it will be drawn back to Earth by a combination of gravity and atmospheric drag.

Another key aspect of a satellite’s orbit is its inclination relative to the Equator. Equatorial orbits – when the orbit is around the Equator – have zero inclination. Polar orbits, on the other hand, pass over both the north and south poles, and have an inclination of 90 degrees.

Other orbits sit at inclinations between 0° and 90°. The orbit of the international space station, for example, has an inclination of 51.6°. So it passes over the parts of Earth that are within 51.6° of latitude north and south of the Equator. Its orbit has an average altitude of 400km. (For comparison, the radius of the Earth is 6,378 km.)

The orbit of the International Space Station.

Low orbits for small satellites

Until about the year 2000 almost all useful satellites (ones that performed functions such as communications or weather observation) were big – weighing as much as 10,000kg. They also tended to be in orbits with altitudes greater than 2,000km.

This has changed due to the rapid development of micro-scale, low-power electronics that we all use every day in our mobile phones. Satellites can now weigh just hundreds of kilograms and perform the same function in terms of communications and earth observation.

There is also a movement (including in Australia) towards even smaller satellites called “cubesats”, weighing less than 20kg, which have limited capability and life. One implication of this smaller size is the need to be close to Earth.

Modern small satellites are all in Low Earth Orbit, with altitudes less than 1,000km. For example, a company called Planet has a constellation of about 200 satellites which supply images of almost anywhere on the planet on a daily basis.

Polar (blue) and inclined (red) orbits around Earth.

The self-cleaning zone

Despite the fact that the edge of Earth’s atmosphere is generally considered to be at 100km altitude, in reality it reaches much higher. In practice, any satellite in Low Earth Orbit will eventually be slowed down by impacts with air molecules and will return to Earth in a fiery re-entry. This may seem like a significant limitation for small satellites. But actually it is extremely helpful.

Due in part to their size limitation, most small satellite have a useful life of between one and five years. After this time a replacement satellite with the latest technology must be launched. If it wasn’t for the fact that Low Earth Orbit is a self-cleaning zone, the small satellite revolution would clog up the space around us with junk.

So when you hear about another planned constellation of hundreds of satellites, don’t worry too much. So long as they are in Low Earth Orbit, and most likely they will be, the Earth’s “vacuum cleaner” will clean up after us.

But what about the International Space Station? It is also in the Low Earth Orbit zone – so its orbit needs to be continuously maintained, which requires significant reserves of fuel. At some point, however, it will suffer the same fate as the much smaller Chinese space station Tiangong-1 and make a fiery re-entry.


The Conversation


Read more:
China’s falling space station highlights the problem of space junk crashing to Earth


Michael Smart, Professor of Hypersonic Aerodynamics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

The coal industry has a new voice in parliament, in the form of the so-called Monash Forum – an informal government faction featuring former prime minister Tony Abbott and backbench energy committee chair Craig Kelly.

The group, which also reportedly contains former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce alongside as many as 11 of his Nationals colleagues, is agitating for the government to go beyond its current energy policy and build a taxpayer-funded coal power station.

As several commentators have pointed out, the move is a calculated push by the usual backbench suspects to put pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, two weeks ahead of crucial talks with state and territory leaders over the design of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).




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Perversely, the Monash Forum’s members want the NEG to prove its “technology neutral” credentials by including coal as well as renewables. And let’s not forget that the NEG policy was cooked up when it became clear that Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target was unpalatable to Coalition MPs (but not economists).

What’s in a name?

In choosing to form a group like this, opponents of action on climate change are trying to give themselves gravitas, in three possible ways.

First and foremost, they are aiming for the “halo effect” of taking a known public figure and claiming some of his (and it’s usually a he) intellectual cachet. First and foremost here are groups named after scientific figures.

In 2000, a group of climate deniers, including the late Ray Evans and former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh, set up the grandly named Lavoisier Group to undermine progress towards Australian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and a domestic emissions trading scheme. Economist John Quiggin probably said it best when he wrote that the group was “devoted to the proposition that basic principles of physics discovered by, among others, the famous French scientist Antoine Lavoisier, cease to apply when they come into conflict with the interests of the Australian coal industry”.

Then in 2011, opponents of Julia Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme created the Galileo Movement – casting themselves, like their Renaissance namesake, as heroic dissidents to an unthinking orthodoxy.

The second aim is to create a name that implies a stolid, no-nonsense approach to policy. One example is the now defunct Tasman Institute, which was an influential voice against climate action and in favour of electricity privatisation in the 1990s.

The third tactic takes this approach a step further, by creating a name that sounds impartial or even pro-environmental, thus obfuscating the group’s true intent, which is to stymie climate policy. Previous examples include the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, the Global Climate Coalition, the Australian Climate Science Coalition, and the Australian Environment Foundation, launched in 2005 to the chagrin of the existing Australian Conservation Foundation.

The Monash Forum – with its implied connotations of nation-building and high-minded political debate – is perhaps trying to achieve all three of these goals, this time from within parliament itself rather than the surrounding policy development bubble.

Monash on the march

For the younger readers among us, John Monash was arguably Australia’s most revered soldier, described by British war historian AJP Taylor as “the only general of creative originality produced by the First World War”.

The Monash Forum’s founders also hark back to his role in helping kick-start the exploitation of Victoria’s enormous brown coal reserves in the 1920s.

But the Returned and Services League is not impressed that this former serviceman has been pressed into political service, declaring that “Monash’s name is sacrosanct and should be above this form of political posturing”.

What’s more, the name is bound to create confusion over whether it is affiliated in some way with Monash University (it isn’t), and there will doubtless be some unhappy faces at the Economic Society of Australia’s ESA Monash Forum (which is).

Will coal really make a comeback?

In seeking to deliver new coal-fired power stations, the new Monash Forum is attempting to mine a seam that has already been extensively excavated.

The Minerals Council of Australia, which [merged with the Australian Coal Association in 2013], has been trying for years to kickstart public support for coal. Who could forget the “Australians for Coal” and “Little Black Rock” campaigns, or last year’s “Coal: Making the future possible”?

But the council’s latest energy and climate policy statement refers to coal only once, prompting headlines that it has gone cold on coal. BHP has considered quitting the council over its pugnacious stance, while Rio Tinto is selling off Australian coal assets. The mining lobby may soon have to recalibrate its priorities – lithium, anyone?

The problem for coal’s proponents is that most Australians are keen to see the back of it. The promised global wave of “High Efficiency, Low Emission” coal plants has failed to materialise. And stunts such as Treasurer Scott Morrison waving a lump of coal in parliament are derided by a public who are far more energised by the prospect of renewables.




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When he was prime minister, Abbott tried to sabotage investment in large-scale renewables so as to keep the way clear for fossil fuels. But tellingly, he left subsidies for rooftop solar panels largely untouched, presumably realising that voters saw renewable energy as sensible and viable, on a small scale at least.

The problem for advocates of renewables, and climate action more broadly, is that winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing, as Bill McKibben noted last year.

The ConversationPerhaps that is the ultimate aim of the Monash Forum and those who share its goals. Renewable energy may win in the end, but it will win slowly enough that coal can earn one last payday.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

If Australia wants to boost defence exports, it should start with its natural strength: cyber security



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The government’s Defence Export Strategy aims to make Australia a world leader in arms exports.
Shutterstock

Greg Austin, UNSW

Australia’s “national security” government has found yet another credential to add to its claim that it’s protecting the country’s future. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched a new Defence Export Strategy this week to catapult Australia into the top 10 defence exporting countries in the world by 2028.

Broadly speaking, the plan’s main premise is that if Australia is going to retool its defence industry over the coming decade to lift the production of Australian-made military equipment and services, then the government and industry itself should take the opportunity to export the same products and services.

Just as importantly, the strategy notes, if domestic producers are to prosper and succeed in playing their part, they will need bigger markets than the Australian armed forces can provide.

Three big questions

There are at least three big questions that can be raised about the plan.

First, we can wonder just how Australia hopes to achieve the 800% growth in sales represented by the “top 10” ambition in a highly competitive market place.

Between 2012 and 2016, according to a report released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), countries near the bottom of the list of top 10 exporters (Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Israel) each had eight times more defence exports by value than Australia.


SIPRI

A second question concerns the national innovation strategy that would be needed to achieve such a massive improvement.

One day after the Prime minister’s new push for arms exports, the Chairman of the Board of Innovation and Science Australia, Bill Ferris, released Australia 2030 – a strategic plan for the Australian innovation, science and research system out to 2030 – commissioned by the government.

The report identified five things that need to change urgently: education, industry, government, research and development, and culture and ambition. Without going into detail here, that is quite some agenda for radical and comprehensive change. It is as needed in defence industry as in the economy as a whole.




Read more:
‘Cyber revolution’ in Australian Defence Force demands rethink of staff, training and policy


A third question is the diplomacy of selling weapons into conflict zones or to governments with troubled human rights records. The government dismissed this concern by saying the main recipients of our defence exports are close allies.

However, the 2017 SIPRI Trends in international arms transfers report lists Indonesia and Oman – with their poor human rights records – as the second and third most important military markets for Australia after the United States.

Making defence a cutting edge industry

So, if the aims of the strategy are broadly credible, but there are some questions about pace and ambition, what are we to make of it?

Its success will hinge on whether key stakeholders, especially the government, industry and academia, truly understand the meaning of the main goal: to, as the report says, transform the

Australian defence industry into the high-tech, agile and cutting-edge industry we need to assure our future defence and national security.

The Ferris report singled out the medical sector as the one with most potential for innovation and export growth. In contrast, the Defence Export Strategy is agnostic as to choice of sector or focus. Selling components for weapon systems is painted as the same as selling military vehicles or radars.

Picking winners may not be sensible in a globalised free market sector such as medical services, but there are some choices in the defence sector that the Turnbull government should be making.




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Cyber peacekeeping is integral in an era of cyberwar – here’s why


Playing to our strengths

Australia has a significant comparative advantage in cyber security knowledge and skills. The country is seen by insiders as being in the top ten in that field already, largely because of its decades of experience working inside the “five eyes” intelligence alliance.

Admittedly, the domestic industry doesn’t yet reflect that strength. But a focus on high-tech military industry development by the defence ministers would play not just to our natural strengths, but also to the need to sell mainly to close allies. (We would only sell such military exports to our closest allies).

More importantly, cyber science is not a sector, it is the essence of all military high technology. Australian universities already export their technology research to the United States through grants from the Pentagon. Several Australian technology startups have been acquired by US military giants. That includes the purchase of Canberra company, M5, by Northrop Grumman. Australian technology company, Atlassian, provides secure web services to the Pentagon.

The government is yet to release its Defence Industrial Capability Plan so maybe it is too soon to tell whether or not Australia’s cyber industry will take a privileged spot. But to date, most key power holders in Australian industrial development have responded only episodically to the challenges and opportunities represented by the information age. Austcyber, the cyber security growth and innovation centre set up by the government, is just one year old.




Read more:
Cyber attacks ten years on: from disruption to disinformation


Australia must build “industries of the future”, according to a multi-year multi-author series of studies led by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), culminating in the book Securing Australia’s Future. This simple message, and many of the fine nuances of the ACOLA work about what makes a national innovation system, find little reflection in the Defence Export Strategy.

Between 2012 and 2014, China decided on its “industries of the future” for defence and security purposes – including for export – and they are all cyber-related. Australia should choose as decisively. We can do it, but we need to first build the critical mass of cyber-educated innovators needed for more rapid takeoff.

The ConversationInvesting very heavily in the military cyber sector may be the only pathway to begin to approach 800% growth in defence exports by 2028.

Greg Austin, Professor, Australian Centre for Cyber Security, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.