COVID-19 and the Future of Global Space Industry



How are countries like Australia, the US and European Union continuing an unparalleled success in space exploration?

It has been more than half a year; we have spent trying to combat COVID-19. Though we are yet to discover a cure for the deadly pandemic, we have had made notable advancements in science and technology in this period. Be it robotics, drones, artificial intelligence computer vision, COVID-19 has made us take a giant leap towards a digital future. In between this crisis, space exploration sounds like a distant dream. However, all hope is not lost for Australia, who is planning to triple its space industry in ten years. For now, the coronavirus has given a major blow to its space aspirations and slowed its pace.

The process between planning and execution in launching a space mission takes years. And the work in the space industry has always continued even under the most challenging circumstances. Nonetheless, neither has hindered the community from innovation, and the international ties are going strong. The space industry is still witnessing a fair share of success.

Recently, the European Union announced more budget for rocket launches, satellite communication, and space exploration to be at par with the space ambitions of rivals US and China. It will be signing a €1 billion ($1.64 billion) agreement with Arianespace, with guaranteed orders to give it more visibility in exchange for more innovation. Under this initiation, Arianespace’s Vega rocket will launch a host of small US satellites in a mission the represents the foreign competition to companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.

Currently,the mission is postponed to August 17, after excessive high-altitude winds prevented launch from French Guiana of 53 small satellites mounted on Vega in June. This delay further gives Arianespace to move forward with a launch of the company’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket July 28 with a pair of communications satellites for Intelsat and the Japanese operator B-SAT. The Ariane 5 will also carry Northrop Grumman’s second robotic satellite servicing vehicle, designated MEV 2, to dock with an aging Intelsat satellite and extend its life in geostationary orbit.

SpaceX is also set to launch Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral at 16:54 BST on Wednesday. It shall carry 57 Starlink satellites and two spacecraft for BlackSky Global into orbit. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX hopes the Starlink satellites will bring low-cost internet to remote areas on Earth. This comes after, SpaceX had achieved tremendous success in launch of 27 foot long, SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on May 30 at 3:22 EST, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Meanwhile,this deal by European Union and SpaceX missionsheralds good news for the Australian space industry too. Australia’s space chronicle with Arianespace dates back to its predecessor, which launched the Europa rocket for the first time in South Australia in 1964.

It is believed that owing to its strong background in advanced and quantum communication can empower Australia to develop deep-space communication, as well as create hack-proof communications on Earth. The country’s government has realized the potential scope of these technological opportunities and is now planning to provide funds to bolster the space industry and stimulate a long-running future space program.

The Morrison Government is backing a series of projects designed to grow Australia’s space sector and create local jobs to help the economic recovery post-COVID-19. The Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology announced ten projects sharing in US$11 million to boost employment and skills in the space sector and help Australia partner with other international space agencies. These projects include improving GPS technology and the design of innovative spacesuits that will make spacewalking easier. The ministry considers space as one of the five defense domains for a strong Australian Defense Force. Moreover, the Australian Department of Defense signed a contract with Queensland company Gilmour Space technologies to develop rockets for small military cargo and satellites.

In light of COVID-19, Australia is achieving several incredible milestones. For instance, the Australian manufacturer, Planet Innovation, a Melbourne-based company, is chosen by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make an innovative COVID ventilator. A couple of years ago, Fleet Space Technologies and Oz Minerals were just awarded a grant to use space technology in mineral exploration.

A few weeks ago, the Australian National University National Space Test Facility (NSTF) was the first non-COVID research facility at the university to reopen. Its first project was testing a piece of space equipment created by Australian company Gilmour Space Technologies that will fly on an Australian space mission in 2022. And to put the cherry on top, the nation is planning to inaugurate its own spaceport in East Arnhem Land, by early 2021. This shall enable Australia to join the ranks of just 13 other countries that have launch capacity from their territory. So, keeping all these promising projects and collaborations in mind, it is safe to say the Australian space dream is not weighed down by the pandemic. Instead it continues to flourish towards a promising future.