Monday, September 25, 2017

IAC 2017, the Australian Space Agency, Canadian Space Miners & the Seraphim Space Fund

          By Henry Stewart

It's conference season, a season which normally kicks off with the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2017) at the end of September. But conferences aren't the only things happening in the space industry.

For the week of September 25th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Australian senator Simon Birmingham announcing the creation of an Australian Space in Adelaide, on September 25th, 2017 as part of the IAC 2017 opening ceremonies. As outlined in the September 25th, 2017 Agence France-Presse post, "Australia to create national space agency," Birmingham committed on Monday "to creating a national space agency as it looks to cash in on the lucrative and fast-evolving astronautical sector." 
  • It looks like Australia is gonna get its own space agency, although most of the details are still to be decided. 
According to the September 25th, 2017 The Register post, "Australia commits to establish space agency with no budget, plan, name, deadline …," an ongoing Federal government review of Australia's space capabilities has evidently demonstrated an "overwhelming need" to establish a national space agency.
Oddly enough, although the review is not yet complete, the formal announcement that the Australian government was intending to create a space agency was made by Senator Simon Birmingham, the minister of education in the government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, during the opening ceremonies of IAC2017, which is being held in Adelaide, Australia from September 25th - 29th.
According to The Register, this announcement, when combined with the July 2017 Australian government "Terms of Reference for a Review of Space Industry Capability," which outlined the scope of the inquiry and the August 2017 "Australian Government Issues Paper," which further defined the issues the committee is expected to address, could lead the committee to only two possible conclusions: 
The Register mentions those documents because it appears that either the Reference Group's consultations to date have so unanimously recommended the creation of a space agency that any other recommendation would be folly, or because the contents of its output have been decided in advance. 
Whatever the reason for today's announcement, there's zero evidence Australia hopes to build launch capacity or has any missions in mind... 
How's that for democracy in action?
The review, under the title, "Review of Australia's Space Industry Capability," was announced in July 2017. Formal consultations began in mid-September, after the review had staged "preliminary chats" with 400 people. 
Thousands of the world's top scientists, business people and space experts are attending the week-long IAC 2017 in Adelaide and many more announcements are expected.
Graphic c/o NRC

  • Curiously enough, Australia is Canada's biggest competitor for mining technology. Where Australia's space industry goes, can Australia's mining industry be far behind? 
Maybe not. As outlined in the September 19th, 2017 Computerworld post, "Govt to launch ‘Digital Economy Strategy’," the Australian government will also release a "digital economy strategy" early next year “to seize the benefits of digital transformation and secure Australian jobs into the future.” 
The new strategy will cover "areas of competitive strength," including energy resources, medical and mining related technologies. According to the article, the latest consultation also "welcomes views on a number of emerging technologies, namely 5G, artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing."
The new strategy is in addition to the government’s $1.1Bln AUD ($1.08Bln CDN) "National Innovation and Science Agenda" which was launched in December 2015, and seems to have much in common with Canada's Innovation Agenda (now renamed "Canada's Innovation and Skills Plan"), a 2016 Canadian Liberal government initiative to do much the same thing.
And here's where we come to space mining. Canada still has no formal position or initiatives related to space mining on the books although, as outlined in the May 1st, 2017 post, "This Week's 8th Joint Planetary and Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium & Space Resources Roundtable," there is an active Canadian community involved in this area.
If Australia becomes interested in space mining initiatives, either through tax changes like those advocated in the October 31st, 2016 post, "'Super"' Flow Through Tax Shares & Why Space Companies Need Them," or through the direct funding of new initiatives (the favored methodology of the Americans, although they have also passed recent legislation), then Canada companies will not be able to compete in this new frontier as effectively as they have been able to compete terrestrially.
In essence and from the Canadian perspective, here's hoping that the new Australian space agency doesn't set up a "space mining group."

The Seraphim Space Index covering $2.57Bln US ($3.17Bln CDN) in major space focused investments from July 2016 to June 2017. Graphic c/o Seraphim.

  • Given the above, it's worth noting that not all news about the space industry involves a government or a government space agency.
For example, the world's first venture fund "dedicated to financing the growth of companies operating in the Space ecosystem," London, UK based Seraphim Capital, has closed out the latest round of funding for its Seraphim Space Fund at £70Mln ($116Mln CDN). 
As outlined in the September 18th, 2017 This is Money post, "SES invests in Seraphim's £70 million Space Fund," the money raised came from a variety of small and large space focused players including Luxembourg based SES SA, Paris based Airbus, Mumbai-based Rolta, California's Teledyne Technologies and Rome-headquartered Telespazio. 
"By virtue of being a specialist space-tech investor – the only dedicated space-focused VC globally  – we are benefiting from very strong global deal flow," said Michael Jones, a managing partner at Seraphim in a press release outlining the close. "We've been targeted by many other VCs asking us to participate in space-related transactions they're working on."
As outlined in the August 27th, 2015 Via Satellite post, "European Space Industry to get Venture Capital Boost," the new fund has partnered with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) applications program and "is poised to accelerate startup and small business activity within the UK space industry.
Seraphin's primary focus is to invest in projects that commercialize data above the earth, collected either by satellite or drone. The company manages £100Mln ($166Mln CDN) in venture capital across two funds, the newly launched Seraphim Space Fund and a £30Mln ($50Mln CDN) fund launched in 2006, which is currently in divestment. 
For more, check out upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

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