SmartSat CRC, Boeing agreement to boost Aus space industry

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019

SmartSat CRC, Boeing agreement to boost Aus space industry

The Australian Government has announced $55 million in funding for a new CRC focused on space industry research — the Cooperative Research Centre for Smart Satellite Technologies and Analytics (SmartSat CRC).

The bid for the CRC was developed by the University of South Australia (UniSA), in partnership with engineering consultant Nova Systems. Having already received $190 million in cash and in kind from 84 research and industry partners, the CRC is officially the biggest investment in space industry R&D in Australian history.

“Our goal in bringing together the bid for SmartSat was to show the huge potential and capacity there is in Australia to make an impact globally by developing leapfrogging technologies in areas where we have some of the best expertise on the planet — AI, advanced communications and remote sensing analytics,” said UniSA’s Professor Andy Koronios, SmartSat CEO designate and leader of the bid.

“As we advance at a pace to an era of machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things, satellites are becoming central.”

Prof Koronios said Australia can no longer rely on terrestrial connectivity as the world starts connecting everything from cattle to hospitals digitally with Industry 4.0 applications, noting, “No amount of land-based communication infrastructure can fully solve the digital divide that exists in a massive country like Australia.”

With this in mind, Prof Koronios said the SmartSat CRC plans to build a flock of satellite assets that Australia can task and control to be the country’s first space infrastructure for connectivity and earth observation. The satellite constellation is envisioned to provide advanced remote sensing capabilities to help Australian farmers, border security and emergency services monitor the expanse of Australia.

“We will create a data freeway in the sky by using new, game-changing technologies such as laser and quantum communications and artificial intelligence systems,” he said.

Prof Koronios said that although the new CRC will be headquartered in South Australia it is a national program and will involve some of the best universities in the country, as well as the CSIRO and Defence Science and Technology (DST). It will establish state nodes to ensure that the whole of the nation is involved in the development of smart satellite technologies which will meet Australia’s needs to secure its defence, telecommunications and monitoring technologies into the future.

One of the partners on the CRC is Macquarie University, whose contribution is being led by Associate Professor Sam Reisenfeld. He said, “Our contributions to the CRC will include artificial intelligence-based algorithms for satellites and Earth stations, technologies to integrate satellites with 5G phone networks and ways to utilise satellite technology in the Internet of Things.

“A new generation of low-cost smart satellite technology has the potential to enhance agriculture, mining, communication and national security.”

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd described the project as “one of the most exciting research collaborations ever forged in Australia”, saying he looks forward to “working with an outstanding international cohort to develop smart satellite and communications solutions for the future”.

News of the CRC comes just a few days after the mission to grow Australia’s space industry saw the Australian Space Agency sign a Statement of Strategic Intent with aerospace company Boeing. The agreement features Boeing support for investments in R&D, innovation, STEM education and government programs aligned with the Australian Space Agency’s priorities.

“Boeing’s ongoing commitment to supporting science, technology, engineering and maths education, including developing a skilled and diverse workforce, is vital to the growth and progress of Australia’s space economy,” said Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews.

“The statement begins an important partnership with Boeing and emphasises the value of its ongoing research and development in collaboration with universities and research institutions across Australia.”

Dr Megan Clark, Head of the Australian Space Agency, said the signing of the statement is an example of how collaboration and engagement across countries is an important aspect of the growing space economy, both in Australia and internationally.

“This Statement of Strategic Intent highlights Boeing’s existing collaboration with CSIRO, universities and industry in broad areas such as space debris monitoring, advanced manufacturing and fuel production in space, on-orbit imaging, VR and remote space craft operation,” she said. “This partnership opens the doors for Australian innovators to participate in the global supply chain of the space sector.”

Boeing Senior Vice President of Space and Launch Jim Chilton added, “Expanding our relationship with the Australian Space Agency is a significant step for Boeing and a reaffirmation of our long-time teaming with Australia in space.

“We see great opportunity ahead for all of us as Australia continues to grow its space industry and national capabilities.”

Both the CRC and the Boeing agreement should go a long way towards meeting the Australian Space Agency’s goal of lifting Australia’s space industry to $12 billion, generating an extra 20,000 jobs by 2030.

Image caption: Professor Andy Koronios. Image credit: Catherine Leo.

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