Branson wants Australia to join space race
Sir Richard Branson wants to partner with the federal government to launch a mission to Mars or Venus.
The billionaire is also keen to bring his space company Virgin Orbit to Australia, along with its unique air-launch system, which uses a modified Boeing 747 to send rockets into space from midair.
The space pioneer's enthusiasm for the nation's emerging space industry is detailed in Virgin Orbit's submission to a government inquiry exploring how to best develop a sector which has been identified as a priority manufacturing area.
Virgin Orbit urges the government to support "ambitious beyond earth-orbit, deep space exploration missions" and suggests destinations include "cislunar space, Venus, Mars, or beyond".
"In addition to providing a near-term milestone achievement for the country's new Space Agency, such a mission would provide access to space for start-ups in Australia, and would help bolster the Australian aerospace industrial base, furthering Australia's position in analytics and science," the submission says.
Cis-lunar is the area lying between the earth and the moon.
Virgin Orbit is already working with the Polish government to send a small, 50kg unmanned spacecraft to Mars.
Sir Richard told the Herald Sun new launch capabilities and small satellites had opened up space to new players and urged Australia to think big about what it could achieve.
"This democratisation of space will enormously benefit all of us back here on Earth, whether it's the lessons we'll learn from scientific experiments and deep space exploration, or the value unlocked by the lower barriers to entry for business," he said. "The next generation of innovators now has a new affordable, responsive path to space, so we can all think a little bit bigger."
Virgin Orbit's submission follows its first successful launch of a satellite using its experimental "LauncherOne" system late last month.
Rather than launch the rocket from the ground, the company released it from under the wing of a Boeing 747, called Cosmic Girl, travelling 11km above the Pacific Ocean.
Virgin Orbit says using a plane as a launch platform allows small satellites to be sent into space quicker, and from airports rather than expensive launch pads.
Virgin Orbit has also urged the government to buy a 747 aircraft which can be modified to carry LauncherOne technology.
Sir Richard's better known space company, Virgin Galactic, aims to carry out the first commercial space tourism flight this year.
Australian Space Agency inaugural head Enrico Palermo, was poached from a senior executive role at Virgin Galactic.
Originally published as Why Branson wants Australia to join space race