Americas Asia-Pacific EMEA




CSIRO boosts space capability with deal for direct access to satellite

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has secured direct access to a satellite being launched later this year in a $10.45 million deal with UKbased Surrey Satellite Technology. While the CSIRO currently has access to satellite data from Europe and the US, this will be the first time the agency gains direct control over data collection capability as a satellite passes through Australia.

 CSIRO astronomy and space science group director Dr Douglas Bock told CommsDay that the first-of-its-kind deal would significantly enhance Australia's space capability and provide many flow-on benefits to industry and the wider economy.

“This is Australia realising there's a national interest in having access to our own piece of a satellite, rather than just data that others are providing. And so what's vital about this mission is that we get to target the satellite when it goes across Australia so that we can look at what we want to look at and at a time when we want to look at it,” he said in an interview at the agency's stand at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide.

Bock's astronomy and space science group manages a national facility in Canberra that includes data through agreements with the European Space Agency and NASA, with which it has a 50-year history of collaboration.

The deal with Surrey Satellite Technology will add to that existing capability. SST is launching the NovaSAR-S, a first-in-class small radar satellite. The CSIRO will have access to the raw data directly from the satellite, and a license to use and share it with other Australian companies and organisations. The satellite hosts an innovative S-band SAR payload developed by Airbus UK. According to Bock, the satellite brings new capabilities to Australia's earth observation.

“Because it's a radar satellite and operates through radio waves, it can see through clouds. So a lot of the current satellites can't see through clouds, which if you're looking at flooding, for example, that might be when you need to see through it most,” he said. “It will help us manage more productive agriculture, understand our forestry cover, look at carbon loading, look at our borders in terms of maritime . . . there are a whole number of ways in which this can help the Australian economy and Australian people directly,” Bock added. The NovaSAR-S is also equipped with a wide >400km swath maritime mode for ship detection across oceans and flies an Automatic Identification System to provide additional data for shipping, coastguard and customs authorities.

The UK government provided £21 million to assist in the development and launch of NovaSAR-S and will also benefit from access to the SAR data, significantly boosting the UK’s own earth observation capabilities for applications such as ship detection and identification, oil spill detection, forestry monitoring and disaster monitoring, particularly flood detection and assessment.

SST commercial director Luis Gomes said further data shares on the system are available, with the company in discussions with further potential partners. In the meantime, Bock said that the CSIRO could boost its space capabilities further in future with similar deals. While Australia may also launch its own satellite, Bock said the current “time-share” arrangements may suit the country's needs better. “You have to set up the right type of commercial arrangements and good governance to make sure you have access to the data when you need it. Then you have something much more powerful than one satellite launched by Australia that might be on the wrong side of the world when you need it,” he said. Geoff Long, Commsday