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Space boom with Square Kilometre Array Telescope signals new identity for WA's Midwest

One of the world's biggest science experiments based deep in WA's outback could unlock a new identity for the state's Midwest. 

Several space exploration projects are being identified by scientists and the Mid West Development Commission, like the Square Kilometre Array Telescope (SKA).

Space and cyber security expert Brett Biddington said the region would be a hub for space exploration, bringing with it a host of jobs, economic growth and attraction.

"We can see therefore a change in the demographic and the sort of workforce that currently is the backbone of Geraldton in the Midwest," he said.

This week Dr Biddington and a team of consultants visited Geraldton to explore the opportunities in the region.

"We've been asked by the Mid West Development Commission to report to them on the opportunities for growth for the Midwest," he said.

"That is presented by the satellite precinct at Mingenew, by the defence facility and most importantly by the radio telescopes that exist or are about to be built."

The SKA has been highlighted as a key project nurtured by the Midwest region, with multiple countries involved wanting to share a piece of scientific history.

After three decades, construction will begin on what has been described as leading-edge technology, costing billions of dollars, in WA's red dirt.

The site is about 350km east of Geraldton on what was formerly a pastoral station in Boolardy, Murchison region.

The process of procuring the land and establishing the Murchison has been tedious, but progress was made last week when the Wajarri Yamaji group gathered to sign the Indigenous land use agreement.

Mid-West Development Commission chief executive Nils Hay said the traditional landowners would play an ongoing role in the future of SKA.

"There has been a long period of discussion and negotiation and working through what is this going to mean for them and what potential compensation but also opportunities will exist," he said.

Midwest to take on new character

While the SKA build will take about a decade, Dr Biddington identified the region as the key in a major opportunity.

"I see this potential for the region as it being a vector for high tech growth," he said.

Dr Biddington said several jobs would open up and transform Geraldton.

"There is going to be a construction workforce of some hundreds of people needed to build the telescope," he said.

More than 100 high-tech specialist jobs will be on offer, and support for those workers, according to Dr Biddington.

"They bring multipliers with them in way of butchers and backers and all people needed to support his workforce," he said.

A billion-dollar investment into the sky

Mr Hay said people from all over the world were sharing in a piece of history, with the project able to give reciprocal benefits for years to come.

"When it's finished [SKA] it will really be a very internationally significant piece of science equipment that's sitting right here in the Midwest," he said.

"It cuts across a lot of industries, so what does it look like from education, from a tourism interpretation point of view?"

Mr Hay said STEM would emerge as a critical learning strategy to prepare up-and-coming scientists to work in the field.

"[We will look at] how can we ensure the people who might be working in these facilities in 10, 15, 20 years time have the ability to get trained and get exposure to projects like SKA," he said.

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