Topics: Hayabusa2 return
David Penberthy: A slightly longer road trip has been had over the last five odd years; involves the Japanese space program that sought to retrieve material from an asteroid millions of kilometres from Earth. And when it was to return, it did so here in South Australia, in Woomera, in fact, where there was something of a light show, dropped off a couple of handfuls of dust basically – in fact, not even that much – then set off to land on another asteroid. And so the journey will continue for more than a decade. It feels like these brushes with space are going to become more and more regular in South Australia, now, the home of the Australian Space Agency. The Science Minister federally, Karen Andrews, joins us. Minister, good morning to you.
Karen Andrews: Good morning.
Will Goodings: So, Minister, it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around what’s actually gone on here. So they landed this thing on a moving asteroid, did they?
Karen Andrews: Yes, they did. So, the asteroid is actually called Ryugu. It’s a pretty big asteroid. It’s about a one kilometre diameter. So it’s pretty significant. And the Hayabusa2 picked up two samples or we hope it picked up two samples, that’s yet to be revealed. But one is the sample from the surface of the asteroid and the other sample is from within the asteroid. So that’s actually the first time that there’s been a sample taken from inside an asteroid and brought back to Earth so it’s pretty exciting.
David Penberthy: So what’s the application of the sample? What’s the hope as to what can actually be done with these particles that they’ve got from the asteroid?
Karen Andrews: So we’re hoping that it’s going to enable our scientists to get a good understanding of the origins of our solar system. I mean this asteroid is about 4.6 billion years old. It will hopefully tell us a little bit more about our own planet. We’re hoping that there’ll be information about organic matter, water, and it may well be able to give us some information about where our oceans actually came from, how they came to be. So, it is an incredible opportunity for us to really understand a little bit more about our solar system and the origins of Earth. But these samples are tiny. And just as we speak now, JAXA is going through the process in Woomera now of starting to release the gases from the sample container. Now, hopefully, as we get the gases out, will indicate that the samples have been successful and are inside, but that’ll take a few hours.
Will Goodings: We’ve had a history of things landing here in Australia. We’re trying to start a- forge a new future. We’re actually launching a few more things and that’s what got everyone excited in South Australia at the moment. Do you think we’ll see more of these sorts of projects with Australian agencies partnering with, be it NASA, be it the Japanese agency and others in the near future?
Karen Andrews: Absolutely. I’m very confident of that, and discussions are well underway with NASA about its Artemis program, which is to the moon and beyond to Mars. We’re in discussions with JAXA about future cooperation. And, of course, the Space Agency being based in South Australia now is a fantastic opportunity for South Australia. And we have a new Space Agency head starting in January. Enrico Palermo is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Virgin Galactic. So I’m very keen for him to start and we will focus on launch and making sure we are building the space sector.
Will Goodings: We hear a lot of talk about the future being in space here in South Australia, Minister. In your reckoning, though, it still feels like something that’s a bit sort of hard to grasp, hard to envisage how it could ever become a mass industry. Do you see it as having that potential?
Karen Andrews: Yes, I do, because space is actually a very broad industry. So we know it is, as launch, many people understand launch. They’ve- if they haven’t watched NASA launching live, they’ve actually seen clips of it, but space is much more than that. And that’s where the opportunities are for us. So every time you use Google Maps, for example, you’re actually using space technology because that information is coming through. So the applications are enormous. Our cooperation with JAXA, for example, in the past has led to information about our bushfires. So it’s a huge opportunity.
David Penberthy: Is there the potential for some permanent launch infrastructure to be built in South Australia?
Karen Andrews: Well, a couple of the states are actually quite interested in that, and I think it’s probably going to be a little bit competitive. Look, certainly South Australia has shown some interest in that and South Australia is ideally placed for that to happen. So, I’m very happy to work through the Space Agency with Premier Steven Marshall to look at what the opportunities are.
Will Goodings: Good stuff. It’s exciting.
David Penberthy: Okay. Certainly is.
Karen Andrews: Certainly is.
David Penberthy: Minister, appreciate your time this morning.
Karen Andrews: No worries. Thank you.
David Penberthy: That’s Federal Space and Technology Minister Karen Andrews.