Launching Aussie businesses into the space supply chain

Australian manufacturers keen to play a role in NASA’s Moon to Mars mission can now access over $25 million in grant funding as part of the federal government’s Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grants program

In late 2019, the federal government announced a $150 million funding package to help ensure Australian companies are involved in the US Government’s Moon to Mars space exploration program, as well as NASA’s Artemis lunar program that will see astronauts land on the moon by 2024.

Designed to grow local capability, supply chains and job opportunities in the space sector, the $25 million Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grants program is the first element of the federal government’s $150 million funding package.

Moon to Mars

As part of the Artemis program, NASA is working to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 to establish a permanent human presence and uncover scientific discoveries. The program will see scientific instruments and technology delivered to the lunar surface for demonstrations.

The federal government established the local Moon to Mars initiative to give Australian businesses and researchers the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and capabilities in projects that support NASA’s Moon to Mars program.

According to Campbell Pegg, Moon to Mars program manager, Australian Space Agency, “The Moon to Mars initiative was set up by the Australian Government to accelerate the growth of Australia’s space industry and support NASA’s activities. The initiative combines both a relationship building aspect and a space industry building objective.”

The Trailblazer and Demonstrator programs

The Australian Space Agency has designed the Moon to Mars initiative with three integrated elements.

“The Moon to Mars initiative is broken down into three programs; the Supply Chain program, the Demonstrator program, and the Trailblazer program,” said Pegg.

The Trailblazer program is the Space Agency’s inspirational flagship program.

“Trailblazer is the one mission that goes beyond Earth. It is most likely to see Australian technology land on, orbit or fly by the Moon. The Australian manufacturing industry will play a key role in this program—it will be an Australian mission, with Australian hardware orbiting and landing on the Moon,” said Pegg.

“The Demonstrator program is a comparatively smaller project. It is focussed on getting hardware up into space. When it comes to space heritage, it is very binary – a company either has space heritage, or it does not. To gain qualification and break into the space market and its supply chains, you need space heritage. You must be able to demonstrate that your products have been to and can operate in space. The Demonstrator program provides a pathway to develop and launch products into space.”

The Demonstrator program is expected to open in late 2020.

Supply Chain Capability Improvement grants

According to Pegg, the Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability Improvement grants are designed to build the capacity, skills and capabilities of Australian companies to strengthen supply chain opportunities.

“The objective of the Supply Chain program is to get Australian companies into domestic and international supply chains. At the end of the program, we want contracts in place for Australian companies looking to break into the space industry.”

“There are two elements to the program. The first is grant funding, to give companies a capability boost, to enable them to get their product qualified and to prove that they can be a part of the supply chain. The other element is focussed on facilitation—the Space Agency is here to help get buyers and sellers talking to one another.”

“One of the fundamental problems that the Space Agency has come across is that a lot of companies and their owners are naturally interested in space but, when it comes to the crunch, they are reluctant to get involved, with many believing that space exploration should be led by government, not private business.”

“So, my biggest piece of advice for companies keen to get involved in space is to understand that the space industry is profoundly changing—there is potential for any company to get involved. Space is a unique opportunity. Companies tend not to think of space as a revenue stream, but you can bring your experience from other industries across to space.”

“Once you have decided to work in the space sector, you need to assess the opportunities available and determine where your competitive advantage is. Australia has many unique strengths that are being used to find solutions to a number of the problems that the space industry has encountered for years. A good example is the mining industry, which has designed communication systems for remote areas—some of the distances between mines and operational bases are as vast as those in space. We want to leverage technology like that not only to help space exploration, but to also improve the application of technologies in the mining industry.”

“I encourage all manufacturers to consider space as an option to diversify your portfolio of clients. Space is not just ‘cool’, it offers a real financial benefit too,” said Pegg.