Where is our Australian Space Agency?

Robert brand 2013 - discussing a Space AgencyAustralia Deserves a Space Agency.

I recently wrote a letter to the minister for Industry, Innovation and Science – The Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO. I asked for support of Support for MEDIAN was not necessarily financial. I also asked about the rather essential Space Agency.

At this time I will just post my letter and the government’s response.

There maybe some updates from the Minister’s office in the next couple of days. I expect something to happen later in the year, but what it will be is a little up in the air. I will reserve my judgement for a couple of days. The Minister’s office may just decide to respond with a better outcome.

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Dear Sir,

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Robert Brand and I am the manager at ThunderStruck Aerospace (ThunderStruck), a section of PlusComms that is soon to be its own company. ThunderStruck has been formed to bring to market a number of major aerospace innovations that are also very important to Defence. These are mainly my intellectual property. These include:

  • A StratoDrone capable of staying in the same location for months at a time at an altitude of 16Km to 20Km. It will cut the cost of Drone requirements dramatically and can provide communications to regions of Australia without the need for satellite coverage and latency.
  • A passive laser reflector that when scanned, returns a digital ID. Useful for space navigation, but also land based applications.
  • A Mars Mission called MEDIAN. MEthane Detection by In-Situ Analysis with Network. This mission has completed the first three milestones in the US and UK and is now been handed to Australia to bring to completion on Mars.
  • Other work from team members include a major launch facility near Darwin, a solid rocket booster (SRB) that can also double as a sounding rocket and a winged re-entry vehicle. These later projects have had planning work completed, but ThunderStruck will focus on the top three for business reasons. We are simply too small at this time to tackle anything else.

My work in the space sector dates back to Apollo 11. I am arguably Australia’s leading Space Entrepreneur and by the work that I do, an aerospace engineer and innovator. At the age of 17 I was involved in construction of the Sydney Apollo 11 video centre in Australia with the feeds from Honeysuckle Creek and the Parkes Radio Telescope. I supported almost every mission from Apollo 11 to STS-1 and a minor support role in in Shuttle flights right up to 1985. In that time I worked at the Parkes Radio Telescope in support of Voyager’s Uranus encounter and ESA’s Giotto mission to Halley’s Comet. I was instrumental in finding and repairing faults in critical ESA systems at Parkes that had eluded ESA staff for 6 months.

In recent times I have been working on stratospheric research and I am involved with Murdoch University and Sydney University in the development of a Mars flier and a Mars Airship. I am also a regular guest lecturer at Sydney University and have jointly judged cubesat competitions at the University. I have appeared on TV around the world and in print. In Croatia I was invited to a meeting with the President because of the assistance that I was giving to helping students with their stratospheric experiments. It would seem that similar work here of a greater scale goes unnoticed. None the less, the work is not for personal recognition, or I would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

To complete the overview of my involvement in the space sector, I am well respected internationally, being invited to speak at many international conferences, particularly in the USA. I have given three papers at the International Space Development Conference, I am an annual speaker at Spacefest and I am considered to be “part of the Spacefest family”. This year I will be the international speaker at the June AIAA Houston dinner for 200 people. Internationally my credentials are impeccable and my work exemplary. Here in Australia without the backing of a space agency, my work is not as well-known as it is overseas.

The MEDIAN project is simply the biggest opportunity in the space sector that has landed on Australia’s doorstep since the early days of space. The project is internationally accepted as a mission of considerable value. It is expected to have a flight offered in the near future, but the ideal flight to Mars would be with the US rover in about 8 years’ time. That is very short, but NASA interests have requested a white paper to circulate to the mission specialists. That will occur this week.

I became involved in the MEDIAN mission in 2012 when the creator of the mission, internationally renowned astronomer Nick Howes visited Spacefest. In talks he described the complexity of landing a 6 to 12 probe network on mars and he had been told numerous times from many experts: “It can’t be done”. When I was asked, it was because of my work in the stratosphere with high altitude balloons. Although this is why he came to me, it was not the solution that I proposed. It was with penetrators. Essentially taking the approach that “velocity is my friend” rather than something bad. The recent work in a Moroccan Mars simulation in the desert and work in a UK university to confirm the figures that I had established has lead the mission creator to hand the project in its entirety to ThunderStruck in Australia. This now becomes a project controlled 100% here in Australia.

I am writing to you to ask what support there might be from government for this proposed mission as at this time we do not have a Space Agency to push this project forward and clear any hurdles.

My concern is that we are not being a smart country when it comes to space. The marketplace is some US$330B and we only get 1% of that. Only with a Space Agency will we compete and not see this erode.in the long term. For many decades I have heard politicians hide behind the mantra of “we will never be big enough to launch rockets into space”. I find it sickening that New Zealand has both a Space Agency and a launch capability. Yes, the Agency is recent, but the mantra has somewhat educated people that this could never happen. It is not only time to establish an agency, it is important to ensure that this mission is seen as a platform to put Australian Space back in the international running for space innovation. The Space Policy does not address this and it is clear that support is elsewhere as far as a strategic direction is concerned

To suggest that Australia is too small for a Space Agency is self-fulfilling and an insult to innovation that is being squashed in the sector none the less. There is no investment because there is no Agency. I expect to be speaking at the International Astonautical Federation conference to be held in Adelaide Later in the year. I hope to hear an Australian Space Agency announcement then or hopefully before that.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Brand

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I sent the letter and I had hoped that this might attract a response of support for the concept of MEDIAN and something way more than I received. When you consider MEDIAN is expected to be the biggest mission to space that Australia will have ever had, I was shocked at the response. Please remember that Jennifer Doyle is the Manager, Civil Space  and Cyber Security. Her position has to toe the line of the limits of what she can say. It is not her response that shocks me, but the lack of any reasonable response by the government. As for a Space Agency, Jennifer has no ability to say anything. I have scanned the response so it is an image.

Where is our Space Agency?

The letter paints a poor future, but this may not be the case.

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Sen Arthur Sinodinos 2017-03 Space Agency and MEDIAN response

I was shocked, but realise that Jennifer Doyle could do nothing more. I have spent over half an hour talking to the Senator’s science advisor. I am hoping for a better response, before I escalate this to the press. If you are not across the work that the Senators office is doing, you would not be aware that something is on the way. A Space Agency? Who knows at this stage.

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