Space Programs & History of Australia and Indonesia

Posted on 24 June, 2020

Researched and written by Rex Tion – AIYA’s National Social Media Officer

Indonesian version, click here

It is well documented that for thousands of years indigenous peoples in Australia & Indonesia have used astronomy in their cultures and as a navigation tool. For example, indigenous peoples in parts of Western Australia used astronomy as a guide for when the seasons were changing so they could modify their diet to preserve Emu populations during the Emu nesting period. This helped ensure there would be a sustainable source of food in the future for future years and generations. Learn more about indigenous Astronomy in Australia here.

In March 2019 U.S President Mike Pence proclaimed, “We’re in a space race today”. For quite some time private companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have been in a race to become leaders in this emerging multi-billion-dollar industry. Many countries are also providing greater funding for their space agencies to ensure they get a slice of the action.

In May 2020 SpaceX had a breakthrough in this new space race when their Falcon 9 rocket carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully launched and docked with the international space station. It was the first time a private company to take astronauts into orbit.

Image: launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts on May 30 2020

But what about Australia & Indonesia? Both countries have space agencies and a history of involvement in the space industry.

Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space(LAPAN) was founded in 1963 and has a current budget of approximately US$45 million, with over 1200 staff. LAPAN has done research on rocket, remote sensing, satellites, and space sciences. Indonesia was one of the first developing nations to have communications satellites launched into space. After first launching ‘Palapa’ in July 1976, Indonesia became the first developing country to operate their own domestic satellite system.

Image: Artist’s impression of Palapa C series Indonesian satellite

LAPAN also plans to develop a space port in West Papua to capitalise on Indonesia’s unique advantages in launching low-orbital satellites. The spaceport is well suited to commercial launches as it sits almost exactly on the equator – any space vehicle launched at the equator has a greater initial velocity, making higher velocity or heavier payloads possible Learn more here.

Lilis Mariani, the head of the Rocket Technology Centre at the LAPAN recently said“We’ve got a dream to put our own satellite-launching rocket 200 or 300 km into space within five years”

Meanwhile Australia’s space agency was founded on 1 July 2018 with a budget of 9.8 million USD, with approximately 30 staff. Its purpose is to enable the development of Australia’s commercial space industry, coordinating domestic activities, identifying opportunities, and facilitating international space engagement.

Why so late to the game Australia? Well, it is not so simple. Australia’s previously had a range of policies and funded programs related to space since 1987 under the Hawke Government. However, the programs were abolished in 1996 under the Howard government which followed the advice of the Bureau of Industry Economics.

Indeed, Australia has a rich history of space involvement. Australia’s Honeysuckle Creek tracking station is famously known as the dish which first televised footage of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon on 20 July 1969. Western Australia’s 9-metre dish in Carnarvon was used to track the Apollo 11 spacecraft when in Earth’s orbit, as well as to receive signals from the lunar surface experiments.

Image: Honeysuckle Creek antenna in 1969

Australia’s wide open land in the southern hemisphere offers “plenty of potential” for deep space tracking, according to Anthony Murfett, the Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency.

Australia also has some less desirable interactions with NASA, such as when they fined NASA $400 AUD for littering after the Skylab Space Station crashed into Western Australia in 1979.

Image: Debris of NASA’s Skylab Space Station in Western Australia

Hopefully this new era of space for doesn’t offer any more unwelcome ‘gifts’ for any countries! We hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the current and historical involvements of Australia and Indonesia in the space industry. If you enjoyed this blog post, then we welcome you to check outour archive of previous blog posts, as well as these websites related to space:

Official website of Indonesia’s Space Agency: https://www.lapan.go.id/

Official website of Australia’s Space Agency: https://www.space.gov.au

Australia’s CSIRO space involvement timeline: https://www.csiro.au/en/Showcase/Space-Timeline

Meylisa Sahan, Blog Editor
Books are the world to Meylisa. As a communication graduate, Meylisa used her knowledge to branding book reading activities as a fun activity and became a new trend for millennial