14 April 2013

Satellite utilisation: a new government policy

The federal government released Australia’s Satellite Utilisation Policy on 9 April 2013.

The Satellite Utilisation Policy outlines the government’s strategy for ensuring ongoing and cost effective access to space capabilities.

While the policy does not provide any budgetary commitments, it represents the government’s recognition of the strategic and economic importance of the satellite services industry. It provides the government’s vision for the Australian satellite services market.

The policy covers Australia’s approach to ‘space capabilities’. Space capabilities are all the services Australia uses from satellites. This includes the operation of orbiting satellites and their networks, as well as the ground systems and expertise used to access the data emitted from satellites for the benefit of users.Satellite services may be utilised in the agriculture, mining and telecommunications industries. They are also important for environmental management; national security; and equity of access to telecommunications services in remote areas.

The government’s key policy principles

In that context, the policy offers 7 principles that the government will use to ensure continuing and affordable access to space capabilities.

1. Focus on space applications of national significance

The government has identified a number of significant space applications. They can be grouped into three key areas: earth observations from space, satellite communications and position, navigation and timing. These applications are important because they enable climate prediction, warning services, disaster mitigation, telecommunications and navigation services. The government will focus its efforts on these strategic areas.

The government will use its Australian Government Space Coordination Committee to determine the nation’s requirements and priorities in these areas. It will prioritise research focused on these areas.

The government will develop two infrastructure plans. The first is the Earth Observation from Space Infrastructure Plan to examine investment in ground infrastructure that supports Australian access to satellite earth observations. The second is the National Positioning Infrastructure Plan to examine investment in ground infrastructure for accurate, reliable positioning information. When it comes to satellite telecommunications, the government will not be developing an infrastructure plan because the industry is already mature.

2. Assure access to space capability

Australia will continue to rely on a great degree of international support for space systems and will collaborate with international and domestic partners to develop its satellite infrastructure and expertise. It will promote Australia as a preferred location for ground stations, make contributions to international projects and develop local expertise. 

It will consider managing the over-dependence on international systems and work to establish long-term spectrum certainty.

The government does not view satellite manufacturing and launch capabilities as essential to ensure access to critical satellite services.

3. Strengthen and increase international cooperation

The government will prioritise key allies including the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the EU. It will collaborate with its partners in research, and share knowledge and information. It will also take advantage of its location and try to operate foreign and commercial ground facilities in Australia.

4. Contribute to a stable space environment

There are significant risks in space operations, from anti-satellite weapons to space debris. Therefore, Australia will support and contribute to international regulation of these and other stability issues. It will further these efforts through national regulation.

5. Improve domestic coordination

The government will centralise its organisation when it comes to space issues. It will give government bodies and departments specific space-related responsibilities, establish the Space Coordination Committee, National Security Space Interdepartmental Committee and advisory committee to enhance the strategic direction and coordination of Australia’s satellite utilisation.

6. Support innovation, science and skills development

The government has also committed to retain space expertise, international research cooperation and coordinate research and training in space capabilities.

7. Protect and enhance national security and economic wellbeing

Finally, the government will use space capabilities to enhance national security and protect economic wellbeing.


The policy refers to the Australian NBN as a manner in which it will invest, over time, in appropriate satellite systems. The Labor government’s NBN plan involves 7% of homes and businesses accessing broadband through either fixed wireless or satellite technologies. It is currently delivering this plan through its interim satellite service which provides remote communities with satellite broadband using existing satellite capacity. In the long term, the government plans to launch two of its own next-generation satellites.

In April 2013, the Coalition announced its NBN plan. It has also committed to proceed with the existing satellite and fixed wireless networks to the most remote 7% of premises.

However, the Coalition has noted that it is considering private operators or owners for the NBN satellite service if that delivers a better price and service for regional customers.

A copy of the policy can be found here.

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