“Not just about rockets”: Australia’s space tech industry is taking off. Here’s why

space-startups

Troy McCann, chief executive of Moonshot with Amir Blachman, chief business officer of Axiom Space in Los Angeles. Source: supplied.

Australia’s space tech industry is taking off with more startups joining the ranks of first generation companies such as Fleet Space and Gilmour Space, an investor says.

Troy McCann, chief executive of the startup accelerator Moonshot Space Co, says growing excitement in Australia’s space industry has meant capital is now more readily available than ever, evident in Gilmour Space’s recent series C raise of $61 million.

“Because of that excitement, and the formation of the Australian Space Agency, the nation has woken up to realise that space is not just about rockets and satellites,” McCann tells SmartCompany.

“It’s really about how we are using space for us here on Earth.”

$12 billion industry by 2030 

Robotics, sensors, space medicine and manufacturing are growing segments of the space industry and technologies the Australian Space Agency is keen to foster.

Established by the Department of Industry, Sciences, Energy and Resources in 2018, the Australian Space Agency is progressing in its long term 2030 strategy. 

This year, the strategy passes from stage two to stage three, with the focus shifting from engaging with growth opportunities to delivering on projects and targets.

The agency reports every two years on its goals of tripling the sector’s contribution to national GDP to $12 billion and creating 20,000 jobs by 2030.

The agency also aims to stimulate a $1 billion pipeline of inbound capital investment in Australia’s civil space industry sector over the next ten years. 

McCann says the agency has been supporting startups with generous cash grants, including its Moon to Mars supply chain grants of up to $691,000. To date, Spiral Blue, Advanced Navigation, Crystalaid and Fleet Space have received these coveted grants.

McCann says even funding under $1 million can be useful to a startup.

His accelerator program has given startups as little as $25,000 to $50,000, allowing them to design, build and put into space test satellites with commercial value.

Space medicine and beyond

According to McCann, some of the most interesting startups are those that weren’t initially established with space in mind.

“You might be a SaaS company or a data analytics startup and you happen to help aggregate space data for companies terrestrially,” McCann.

Sydney-based Arlula, which was founded as a streaming service for satellite data, is one example. Arlula’s API platform aggregates geospatial data from free and commercial satellites and offers customised streaming solutions to businesses.

Space medicine is another growing segment of Australia’s space industry that enables innovators to experiment in microgravity environments.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) currently has several medical-based projects underway, involving experiments within microgravity chambers built inside airplanes based on Earth.

Australian company Human Aerospace has worked with RMIT to build compression spacesuit technology that protects astronauts from the physical challenges of space. The benefits of these spacesuits have medical applications, such as helping to treat burns, lymphedema, osteoporosis and cerebral palsy.

“Space medicine is becoming a really big thing even though it sounds quite out there,” McCann says.

More Australian startups are entering the manufacturing space, both in terms of building infrastructure and developing new materials in space environments.

For example, Sperospace is a startup developing robotic arms for on-orbit servicing. It recently won a $200,000 supply chain grant from the Australian Space Agency and will present at Moonshot Space Co’s upcoming showcase on August 6. 

“Australia is really strong with our remote robotics capabilities because that’s what a lot of our mining technologies are based on,” McCann says.

The advantages of the so-called cleanroom environment that space has to offer make developing high quality semiconductors and optical fibres easier because there are no contaminants such as dust particles getting in the way.

Such advantages combined with the cheaper cost of transporting 3D printers to space have startups like Aurora Labs active in this space.

“Space is a perfect location to do that now that the cost of launching and returning materials to and from space is exponentially decreasing,” McCann says.

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