4 mins read 10 May 2021

Space Agency Moon to Mars Initiative Trailblazer Program Commences

The Trailblazer program is the flagship inspirational program from the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Initiative, which will see the Australian space community directly involved in participating alongside NASA’s missions to the Moon and Mars. 

Artist's impression of a moon base. Credit: ESA – P. Carril.

The Australia space community will soon be participating in a homegrown mission, set to inspire thousands of young people and resulting in a tangible asset that will be heading to the moon.  

The third installment of the Moon to Mars Initiative, the Trailblazer Program, from the Australian Space Agency is under way, with consultations on the development and design of the program having just closed in early May. The Initiative is an international program that will see the Australian space industry, through their products, services and supply chains, develop a landmark mission that engages the public and adds to our communities space heritage, whilst directly support NASA in the Artemis mission to send the first woman and next man to the Moon, and then to send the first people to Mars.

The Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Initiative

Spiral Blue is one of the companies that have received funding under the Moon to Mars Initiative to develop satellite-based software. Credit: Spiral Blue.

The Moon to Mars Initiative, a \$150 million investment over five years to boost the nation’s space industry to the global stage, has three tranches. 

The first, the Supply Chain Program, commenced in 2020 offers grants and facilitation to support Australian projects and activities which will contribute to domestic and international supply chains of products and services. Applications for grants under this program can be made here and are ongoing and open until 1 May 2023. Funding has already been awarded to companies such as Spiral Blue, Advanced Navigation, and Q-CTRL.

The second, the Demonstrator Program, was also launched in 2020. This program offered support to the Australian development and launch of space products and projects. Backed projects included propulsion technology, remote medicine applications, and satellite communications. Applications for grants for this program have closed.

The third tranche of the Moon to Mars Initiative is the currently developing Trailblazer Program, in which the Australian space sector will design, build, and execute a lunar exploration mission. \$50 million has been set aside for this project. 

Trailblazer Program

An artist’s impression of an Australian Moon base.Credit: Australian Space Agency.

The Trailblazer Program is currently being designed and developed after a recent consultation period. Details are not yet set on what shape the program will take, but the Australian Space Agency has proposed some ideas. 

The latest outline of the Program would see consortiums from the Australian space industry put forward project ideas and prototypes to the Australian Space Agency for a lunar exploration program, and one of the projects would be chosen and provided with funding. 

There is as of yet no specific stipulations as to how much of the funding, and the design and construction, should remain in Australia, but it has been suggested that generally as much as possible should be kept local. Currently, the consortiums would be given roughly a year and a half to put together their proposals, and then the final chosen project would have two to three years to be developed. 

The Australian Space Agency has suggested several possible project ideas to get the ball rolling, including a rover that will explore the Moon's surface, a Lunar Internet of Things (IoT) network, and an end-to-end astronaut cognitive performance & mental wellbeing system. The aim of the Trailblazer program is to leverage key Australian strengths to find gaps in the international space industry market, to give Australia a competitive advantage in the future. 

The next step in the Trailblazer Program will see the Australian Space Agency incorporate the public’s input to finalise the program’s details. It is estimated that by the third quarter of 2021 applications for Trailblazer grant will open, and applications will close in the first quarter of 2023.