Decadal Plan for Australian Space Science

16 November 2010

The 'SpaceShip Australis' project is proposed by Australian space scientists to study space weather, in particular the effects of the Sun's variability through space to the surface of the Earth and the boundaries of the solar system. Advancing the world's understanding of such space weather is a major focus of the 'Decadal Plan for Australian Space Science: Building a National Presence in Space'.

Professor Iver Cairns from the University of Sydney's School of Physics is the Chair, of the Australian National Academy of Science's National Committee for Space Science. He says that it is imperative for Australia to be counted as a leader in space science and the Decadal Plan will underpin this aim.

"SpaceShip Australis is a ground-based network that will measure, model, and predict space weather and support the proposed Square Kilometre Array of radio telescopes. However it will also see other initiatives set in place that will highlight and develop Australia's capabilities in space science and the study of space weather," he says.

Space weather involves fundamental science that examines extensive impacts on humans and objects in space such as increasing radiation exposure to astronauts and airplane travellers, affecting GPS and navigation systems, causing serious damage to power grids and satellites, and disrupting communication.

"Space science impacts our lives every minute of every day in areas such as communication, navigation, and weather prediction. It also is a driving force behind technological advancement. Improvements in our understanding of space are of immense benefit to Australia and the world," agrees Professor Peter Hall, Vice President, Australian National Academy of Science.

The 'Decadal Plan for Australian Space Science: Building a National Presence in Space', which was recently launched after four years of extensive consultation within Australia's space science community, outlines the Australia's space science initiatives. As well as Spaceship Australia, recommendations for these include:

*Marabibi Constellation: a flexible program of low-cost satellites that link with SpaceShip Australis and provide teaching and student-focused research on space weather, technology, and the Earth.

*Sundiver: a spacecraft that will dive into the Sun to answer fundamental questions on the Sun's supersonic wind and hot corona.

*Coordination of Australian Space Science Ltd (CASS Ltd) and a National Institute for Space Science: to manage investment, co-ordinate research, and link Australian stakeholders.

*Links with the 2009 Joint Academies strategic plan for Earth observations from space.

Research in hypersonic flight, instruments for observing the Earth and providing services from space, radars, the solar system's evolution, and astrobiology are also recognised as an important part of the plan.

Professor Cairns says, "This is the first time that Australia's space scientists have worked together as a community to identify their goals and the benefits to Australia. Our government increasingly recognises space to be vital for Australia's development and security. Now is the time for Australia to invest in space science and technology."

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