25Nov2018

The Woman Putting Australia Into Space

Australia is late to the space party. The leader of its new space agency, Megan Clark, said so herself. This continent has the perfect location in the southern hemisphere to peer into the galaxy.

“It’s so exciting,” says Megan Clark, the first chief executive of the the Australian Space Agency, which launched in July. “When you’ve got this little team, and you’ve got this opportunity, it’s like what have we got to lose?”CreditCreditChristina Simons for The New York Times

It has been one of the last developed countries to get a space agency, and she could not figure out why. So, last year, Ms. Clark ;led an expert review board to determine Australia’s space capabilities, and what they found surprised them. The size of the existing industry was much larger than previous estimates. And never before had Ms. Clark seen stakeholders so united in a cause: The vast majority of players had been long clamoring for a space agency to act as a single Australian gateway to attract investment, support and guidance.

“And that makes your job really easy, because then you can go to the government and say ‘The country is united, just take a step here. There’s no downside; there’s not one stakeholder that doesn’t want this,’ ” Ms. Clark said in an interview. “And it’s not a small group. It’s not a small voice. This is the nation that wants this.”

The Australian Space Agency officially got its start a few months later in July — with Ms. Clark named as its first chief executive. She now oversees a plan to triple the value of the Australian space industry to between $7 billion and $9 billion a year by 2030.

Ms. Clark and her team have hit the ground running. The agency has signed memorandums of understanding with space agencies in France, the United Kingdom and Canada, been commended in a resolution in the United States House of Representatives that promised further cooperation and signed a statement of intent with Airbus.

When the agency’s creation was announced, the public was a bit skeptical at its skimpy budget of $30 million over four years. That led to cartoons of boomerang-shaped rockets and internet jokes about a mock agency, Australian Research & Space Exploration, or ARSE. (By comparison, NASA’s budget this year is approximately $20 billion.)

Ms. Clark at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, a satellite-tracking station in Tidbinbilla, Australia, in 2012 with its director, Ed Kruzins, right, and Jeffrey L. Bleich, then the United States ambassador to Australia.CreditMark Graham/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Clark is unperturbed. To her, the size of the agency’s budget is not a terribly important factor in its immediate success. While NASA’s budget allows it to dictate to the American space industry, the goal of the A.S.A. is to attract investment and create international partnerships, guiding the industry and uniting it under one national banner to help it grow — a role she says is much harder.

“There’s an emerging shift in the role of government from that of sole funder to that of a partner and facilitator,” said the newly appointed minister for industry, science and technology, Karen Andrews, in a speech during September’s Australian Space Research Conference. “These partnerships are expected to lead to new ventures, adding to the growing momentum in the industry.” Source: NY Times

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