Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 03:12 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 03:12 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Space policy


Sam Roggeveen


28 May 2008 10:23

Jo-Anne writes (my response follows):

While the article you quoted in your post does dwell on the issue of national pride, the use of pride as a rationale for investment in space belongs in the history of the Cold War. Sadly the perception that space is primarily about prestige prevails in some circles. Your claim that investment in space technology does not equate to rational economic management is indicative of the short sightedness that has plagued successive Australian governments. Space technology is a long-term project, which requires a political vision and needs coordination, both internally amongst the users of space technology, and externally with other states and agencies such as NASA and ESA. It requires a bureaucracy to coordinate funding and R&D, and to encourage the development and retention of expertise.

Most concerning is that power politics, including regional politics and tensions, are being played out in space. Last week Japan removed restrictions on the military uses of space, and instigated a dedicated ministerial post to space development. The US has made definitive claims of space dominance, and appears to be moving towards the weaponisation of space, causing concern amongst other major players such as Russia and China. Part of the response appears to be a growing sense of space as territory, rather than the ‘commons’ as it has been previously conceived as: Vietnam explicitly claimed a piece of 'space sovereignty' with the launch of its first satellite. This is important for Australia. International law in the area is scant and immature, but is sure to become more relevant.  If Australia does not partake in the space industry, we will not only remain technology takers rather than technology makers, but also policy takers, unable to define the rules of the game in which we seek to participate.

I entirely agree that national pride arguments should have very little place in deciding whether to develop a national space program. Investing in space could well be economically rational, but Andy Thomas' argument seemed to be that, just because third world countries are doing it, so should we. That struck me as pretty weak logic, and probably economically irrational. I share Jo-Anne's concerns about power politics, while noting that it is not only China and Russia which have cause for concern from the US. Remember, China conducted a successful anti-satellite test in January 2006.