New Australian Satellite Research Tackles Disaster Communications
Monday, March 02, 2020 | Comments

The SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre launched in February and announced details of its first research and development (R&D) projects, prioritizing water security, disaster management and advanced telecommunications innovation.

The SmartSat CRC, the largest space industry-research collaboration in Australia’s history, is helping to develop the country’s space industry, having already raised $245 million from more than 100 organizations, the Australian government and industry funding. This investment is targeted at advanced telecommunications, intelligent satellite systems, Earth observation and remote sensing analytics.

Following the nation’s crippling summer of bushfires, top priority for the CRC is development of accurate, reliable communications technology for disaster management, which will see SmartSat collaborate with NASA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and local industry partner, Safety from Space, on a project with broad international implications.

“Critical communications infrastructure is often damaged during a major fire incident, which may complicate rescue efforts and put lives at further risk,” said Andy Koronios, SmartSat CEO and managing director. “We are meeting with NASA to discuss a project that will adapt existing emergency beacon technologies into a form of miniaturized satellite radio, connected into a national incident data management system that will deliver a complete, real-time picture of disaster zones and ensure reliable communications for individuals and communities in danger.”

In a separate project, SmartSat will prove-up technologies that will enable its partners and relevant agencies to establish a national network to monitor the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater across the country. Dubbed the AquaWatch Australia Mission, this project is to be undertaken in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and with the support of partners will encompass a national mission to establish a mini constellation of dedicated AquaWatch satellites, complimented by a network of thousands of terrestrial water sensors that will upload data continuously in near real time.

“In conjunction with government, industry and scientists, we will be enabling the development of a comprehensive, national monitoring system to provide precise, decision-ready information on quality and quantity across Australia’s waterways and reservoirs, essential for the operation of all levels of government in sustaining basic water services for all Australians,” said Koronios.

The SmartSat-CSIRO AquaWatch program will initiate a suite of additional projects benefiting regional stakeholders including primary producers, environmental managers and resource companies, representing just one part of SmartSat’s broader commitment to regional development.

“One major impediment to growth in many regional areas is lack of communications infrastructure, which is often far inferior to that found in capital cities,” Koronios said. “That not only prevents business and industry from investing in these regions but also makes individuals reluctant to relocate, even while many experts point to the great need to grow Australia’s regional areas.”

The remainder of SmartSat’s first-round R&D projects address various technical elements of this national communications challenge, with the goal of establishing cost-effective, sovereign satellite capability to deliver secure, high-speed data nationwide. Developing this network will not only deliver benefits to individuals, industry and the nation’s defense sector, it will also ensure Australia leads global innovation of next-generation technologies such as laser and quantum communications.

“These technologies represent the future of how the world communicates and Australia is home to internationally recognized experts in the field,” Koronios said. “Now, the mission for the SmartSat CRC is to coordinate research in a way that not only solves the unique challenges posed by Australia’s sprawling geography but in doing so, shows the world a better way to communicate.”

Airbus and Leonardo announced they are supporting SmartSat CRC in a seven-year research program to develop and strengthen space technologies in Australia.

“By supporting the SmartSat CRC as a core partner, we want to assist Australia in enhancing its space capabilities and competitiveness,” said Thomas Pfister, head of Airbus Defence and Space, Australasia. “Our investment and first class knowledge sharing will ensure opportunities are created for the next generation of space companies across Australia.”

A key aim for the Airbus partnership with the SmartSat CRC is to help develop small medium enterprises (SMEs) in space and contribute to achieving the Australian Space Agency’s goal of generating an extra 20,000 jobs by 2030.

Leonardo Australia also added its support to the SmartSat CRC. The company is establishing an industrial presence in Adelaide and will be supporting Leonardo’s geospatial imagery company e-GEOS, a joint venture between Telespazio and the Italian Space Agency, in its contribution of funds and know-how to the SmartSat CRC.

“e-GEOS will bring its out-of-the-box thinking in satellite radar and hyperspectral imagery to the infinite fields of application in Australian society — maritime surveillance, mining, better agriculture even environmental monitoring as a critical element of bushfire prevention and damage assessment,” said Bruno Versini, e-GEOS chief operating officer (COO).

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