An Australian-made rover will head to the moon as part of a future NASA mission, after receiving a $50 million backing by the federal government.

Industry leaders are expected to come together for the race to space in what Prime Minister Scott Morrison hopes will be a boost to the country’s COVID-19 recovery.

The Trailblazer program, a part of the Moon to Mars initiative which launched in 2019, will provide $50 million in funding to local businesses and researchers to develop a semi-autonomous rover.

The mission, which is expected to happen as early as 2026, will seek to collect lunar soils and attempt to extract oxygen from them.

It forms part of a plan to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon and offer support for future journeys to Mars.

Mr Morrison said he wanted to triple the size of the space sector by 2030, believing it would create up to 20,000 new jobs in the industry. He expected $12 billion would be added to the economy over the next decade as a result.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Australia to succeed in the global space sector, and is central to our government’s vision to secure more jobs and a larger share of the growing space economy,” he said.

“This mission to the moon is just one exciting way that we can create opportunity and jobs for the future, and our government will ensure Australians reap the benefits.”

Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo said Australia had been selected for its expertise in robotics but the partnership would help to further build on existing capabilities.

“Australia is at the cutting edge of robotics technology and systems for remote operations, which are going to be central to setting up a sustainable presence on the moon and eventually supporting human exploration of Mars,” he said.

“This agreement will leverage our expertise in remote operations to grow our space sector here at home, while developments that come from preparing for space will make sure our resources sector keeps powering ahead too.”
An ‘off-Earth’ presence to boost the on-Earth economy

The Australian Space Agency has said the space sector is a growing area of the economy, with industry reports indicating it could grow a further 10 per cent over the next five years.

In February this year, the space agency revealed sector revenue had grown by $300 million between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 financial years.

Jobs in the industry had also grown by a little more than 1000 to 11,560, and there were 481 space-related organisations in the country.

The Trailblazer program is expected to bring together a consortium of Australian businesses and research organisations to deliver on the NASA lunar rover.

The agency’s fact sheet hopes the program will also increase Australian involvement in local and international supply chains as well as “inspire” the public.

It will open for bids in early 2022.