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Australia’s wellbeing is reliant on space infrastructure

In light of the recent announcement of an Australian Space Agency, Martin Nix and Peter Woodgate, who are both members of the space advisory group to the Government, share some insights into how space has become crucial to the country’s short- and long-term prosperity.

Australia’s ongoing social, environmental and economic well-being depends on continued and cost effective access to satellite data. Position, navigation and timing data is becoming increasingly central to personal navigation and planning as individuals are now connected at all times via their smartphone. At an industry level, such data ensures the ongoing economic productivity of a growing number of sectors including transport, logistics, mining and agriculture.

Earth observation data helps us to understand weather predictions, droughts, bush fires, urban development and future planning needs.

Satellite communication technologies, including broadband, enable Australian citizens and businesses to conduct essential business and access critical services such as emergency transport.

Examples of space assisting Australia’s wellbeing

February 20, 2015 marked the first time on record that two storms of Category 4 or greater intensity had struck the Australian coastline on the same day.

The Bureau used MTSAT-2 data which fed into Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models for analysis and forecasting. MTSAT-2 provides a full disk scan every hour, which during cyclone development improves nowcasting, cyclone positioning and intensity estimation for subsequent alerts and evacuation planning.

Four months later Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite became operational – rather than a full-disk scan of the Earth every hour from the MTSAT-2, this new satellite completes the same task in just ten minutes!

From weather to civil infrastructure, another example of our increasing dependence on the use of satellite data is the development of high accuracy GNSS positioning machine control for earthmoving equipment.

Slew control is a recent addition to excavator machine control that expands on the usual productivity benefits of machine control systems by preventing the excavator arm and bucket from swinging over an invisible vertical boundary line.

In this case the slew boundary is the edge of the road widening.  It permits traffic to safely travel along the existing road corridor without collision with an accidental operator error that may cause the bucket and arm to swing over the road.

It shows another step towards safe autonomous construction machines of the future and the importance of satellite infrastructure in building our transport, work and living environments.

What is critical infrastructure?

Critical infrastructure is defined as ‘those physical facilities, supply chains, information technologies and communication networks which, if destroyed, degraded or rendered unavailable for an extended period, would significantly impact the social or economic wellbeing of the nation or affect Australia’s ability to conduct national defence and ensure national security.’ It includes services that we all rely on: energy, water, communications, transport, food, health, banking and finance.

Civilians and corporations rely on the Government to engage on any issues that could impact critical infrastructure either positively or negatively and to ensure that risks are minimised. Government is therefore a key stakeholder in assisting critical infrastructure providers to increase organisational resilience and ensure continuity of services to businesses, governments and the community at large.

Recognising that owners and operators of critical infrastructure are best placed to manage risk to their operations, the Australian Government generally takes a non-regulatory approach to critical infrastructure. Its focus is to develop strong business to government partnerships instead.

However, certain sectors of critical infrastructure are regulated to strengthen security of specific assets and to comply with international law and treaty obligations. Examples include health care, banking and finance and food production.

Establishing an advisory group to Government

In 2002, following the Bali bombings in Indonesia that killed 202 people, of which 88 were Australians, the Government established a Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council (CIAC). The CIAC developed a Critical Infrastructure Strategy to maintain the continued operation of Australia’s critical infrastructure in the face of all hazards. 

Under the co-ordination activities of the Attorney General’s department, the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) was established as Australia’s primary national engagement mechanism for business-government information sharing and resilience building initiatives.

The TISN provides a secure environment in which critical infrastructure owners and operators across eight sector groups meet regularly to share information and cooperate within and across sectors to address security and business continuity challenges.

The sector groups of the TISN include banking and finance, communications, energy, food and grocery, health, transport and water services . In addition, there are specialist forums (Cross-Sectoral Interest Groups) which assist in the exploration of cross-cutting issues, and a Resilience Expert Advisory Group which has a strong focus on organisational resilience.

Coordination and strategic guidance for the TISN is provided by the Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council (CIAC). CIAC consists of the Chairs of each of the TISN groups, senior Australian Government representatives from relevant agencies, and senior State and Territory government representatives.

Space as a major contributor to critical infrastructure

A Space Community of Interest was later established in 2014 under the CIAC’s Cross-Sectoral Interest Groups. Formed to bring together interested parties from industry, academia and government, the Space Community of Interest explored vulnerabilities arising from space dependencies and developed options to mitigate risk.

In 2015, the Space Community of Interest developed a (restricted) risk management plan and a first pass analysis of risks associated with Australia’s dependencies on space-based assets, including communications, positioning, navigation, timing and earth observation activities.

Last year, in 2016, a dedicated Space Cross-Sectoral Interest Group was established to facilitate greater understanding among Trusted Information Sharing Network sector groups of the essential services that space-enabled services provide to Australia’s critical infrastructure.

Its membership comprises people with expertise in satellite services for PNT, earth observations and communications.

The Space CSIG’s overall objective is to systematically examine and document the risks to the critical infrastructure and their supply chains, for each TISN area, that relate to their dependence on space-based assets. The report that will result from this work will be used by the Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council and other key bodies, to plan for improved resilience across each TISN area.

What progress has been made?

Building on the work of the Space Community of Interest Group, the Space CSIG has met twice so far and planned workshops with each of the sector groups to:

  • Identify essential services that are provided by space
  • Assess the potential impact of any major disruptions
  • Develop resilience strategies for the space sector
  • Develop resilience strategies for the individual sector group

The information shared in these workshops will establish detailed recommendations for the rollout of Australia’s Space Policy. Although the focus of the agency will no doubt be on upstream applications in terms of the country’s contribution to space infrastructure, risk management and optimisation for downstream applications affecting critical infrastructure sector groups are essential to ensure Australia’s long term prosperity with space.

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