Space and the ‘northern economy’


The Australian Government will establish the Australian Space Agency (ASA) on 1 July 2018. This is a significant and timely step for the Australian space sector and will bring a focus and coordination that will propel Australia’s involvement in space.

But space is not the end game.

The Northern Territory (NT) has been working with Queensland, Western Australia and the Australian Government to drive the Developing the North agenda. At the recent Ministerial Forum on Northern Development the responsible ministers agreed that:

'To achieve a more prosperous and secure future, for all Australians, we must continue to grow the northern economy.'

Space is and will continue to be an enabler for this objective. Northern Australian industries, including agribusiness, mining and defence are significant users of space-related technology and it is important to ensure that in our efforts to grow the Australian space industry we keep a focus on how we can leverage space to support the northern economy.

An example of how space is supporting the northern economy is the Precision Pastoral Management System (PPMS). Developed in Alice Springs and on properties across Northern Australia, the PPMS is assisting pastoralists manage operations that stretch across properties the size of small European countries. Space is enabling productivity improvements and driving down the costs of production. The system is now being exported to North and South America and there is interest from India.

The NT has been involved in Australia’s ‘modern’ space activity for nearly sixty years and Aboriginal Traditional Owners have been involved for more than 60,000 years.

Notable activities in the last few decades include:

  • the operation of tracking stations in Nhulunbuy to support the Europa launches in the late 60s
  • the basing of the Apollo Range Instrumented Aircraft in Darwin in the late 60s and early 70s to support for NASA’s Apollo missions, and
  • the establishment of a balloon launch facility in Alice Springs in 1974; today, Alice Springs continues to be a launch site for balloons carrying instruments for upper atmosphere research and astronomy.

Since the early 60s the Top End of the NT has been identified as a site for an equatorial launch facility. While none of these proposals proceeded, this was due to reasons beyond the Territory’s suitability.

Today the NT Government is working with Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) on the Arnhem Space Centre that will be Australia’s first sovereign commercial space launch facility located just outside Nhulunbuy in the north east of the Northern Territory.

The Territory has a natural geographic advantage, we are close to the equator, making it easier for rockets to achieve escape velocity and offering the ability to minimise propellant use or maximise payload size. Nhulunbuy is located on the Gove Peninsula at the western tip of the Gulf of Carpentaria within 1360kms of the equator or 12 degrees south of the equator.

The Gumatj clan, the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land on which ELA is developing its space launch facility, are very supportive of the project and are focused on generating employment opportunities and supporting the education of the next generation. The Gumatj Corporation entered into a project facilitation agreement with ELA, the NT Government and Developing East Arnhem Limited, a local economic development organisation. The agreement outlines a framework for the parties to work together to facilitate development of the project and maximise its economic and community benefits.

In late 2017 the Gumatj entered into a lease with ELA providing certainty of land tenure for the project, a significant milestone. However, the potential opportunities from this partnership go beyond the landlord and tenant relationship with opportunities to actively participate in the project during construction and operations, and to build new tourism experiences.

One thing for sure is that the establishment of Australia’s first sovereign commercial space launch facility will inspire all Australians and will encourage the next generation of children in the region to ‘reach for the stars’.

In fact it would seem to be entirely possible for every high school graduate in the NT to have conducted an experiment in space before they graduate.

In the coming months there will be opportunities to learn more about what is happening in the space industry. If you are already using space or want to explore how space could support your business, please email

Find out more about how space is already supporting the northern economy:

Precision Pastoral Management Tool
Tru-Test (a commercial distributor of the Precision Pastoral Management Tool).

Find out more about the space economy:

The Territory - The Northern Territory’s Space Industry
Australian Space Agency

Written by Jason Schoolmeester, Executive Director Northern Australia Economic and Industry Development

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