UK, Australia sign first-of-its-type space sector partnership agreement

24th February 2021 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

In what has been described as the first such agreement in the world, the UK and Australia on Tuesday created a partnership to greatly strengthen space cooperation between the two countries in most, if not all, its dimensions. The agreement has been designated the Space Bridge.

The two countries have long cooperated in space matters. The UK’s one and so far only national space rocket, the Black Arrow, was launched from the Woomera launch site in South Australia. The last of four such launches successfully put a British satellite into orbit, in late 1971; this remains the only time a British satellite was successfully launched by a British rocket. 

However, the Space Bridge deepens this relationship. It has four aspects, which are described as ‘pillars’. They are: government-to-government; regulation, trade, investment and business; and research and education. The agreement was signed separately in Canberra, Australia, and London, UK, by Australian Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews and UK Science, Research and Innovation Minister Amanda Solloway.

“The bond will allow our most innovative space businesses and universities to collaborate and share best practice more effectively than ever,” affirmed Solloway. “I’m excited to see how this partnership will unlock new space jobs in both countries while driving forward new ideas that could enrich all of our lives.”

The government-to-government pillar will allow the two countries to more closely and strongly align their space policies, with greater exchanges of information and outlooks regarding emerging issues and trends, as well as achieving ‘whole-of-government’ approaches concerning space science, research, security and trade. Regarding regulation, the aim is to promote deeper dialogue on regulatory policies, the sharing of best practices, and increasing the compatibility of industry regulations.

The trade, investment and business pillar is intended to increase trade in the space sector between the two countries, by seeking to reduce the barriers to entry into each country’s space market for the other’s space enterprises and through encouraging the space companies of both countries to make use of the facilities and assistance that each country provides. Under research and innovation, opportunities will be created for more profound research and development cooperation by means of academic and scientific programmes. Deeper collaboration in educational and outreach programmes will also be developed.

The Space Bridge will be buttressed by dedicated work programmes. In each case, the funding for these will be determined by the participants concerned. “The Space Bridge Framework Agreement will help propel the Australian civil space industry into its next phase of growth, opening doors to build local capability, as well as significantly boost our collaboration with the UK Space Agency,” highlighted Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo.  

“This agreement has the potential to unleash innovation, promote knowledge exchange and build relationships that will help both the UK and Australia maximise the vast economic and scientific potential that the space sector offers,” stressed UK Space Agency CEO Dr Graham Turnock. “It will help create better opportunities and greater security for people in both nations.” 

Separately, but in parallel, the UK and Australia are negotiating a free trade agreement. The fourth round of these talks began this week. Reportedly, good progress was made in the first three rounds on issues including customs, rules of origin, procurement, digital and telecommunications.