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SA satellite maker calls for national approach to grow industry

Australia's fledgling satellite sector needs to work closer together and take a more collaborative approach if it wants to win major international business in future – that's the view of Matthew Tetlow, CEO of South Australian small satellite manufacturer Inovor Technologies.

Inovor recently moved into the Lot Fourteen high-tech precinct in Adelaide, putting it in close proximity to the Australian Space Agency and fellow South Australian space companies such as Myriota and Neumann Space. While that brings a lot of advantages to Inovor, Tetlow told Space & Satellite AU that a national outlook and collaboration with other states is more important for the sector overall.

“This is not a single state thing, it's a national program and it's really important that Australia very quickly realises that the competition is not the other side of the state line – the competition is outside of our borders and you need to be consolidating and working together to find our niche and collaborate as much as we can to go after the international market,” Tetlow said in an interview at the company's new premises.

Inovor Technologies has had some strong wins itself over the past 12 months. Earlier this year it was awarded a $272,000 Defence Innovation Hub grant to work on its technology for a control system to stabilise small satellites. It is hopeful that it will lead to Defence adopting the technology for its own small satellites.

Inovor has also won a contract with the CSIRO to design, assemble and build its CSIROSat-1 – which will be Australia's first CubeSat designed to detect infrared light. The satellite aims to extend the CSIRO's Earth observation capabilities by allowing users to “see” features that can't otherwise be seen using satellite imagery in the visible spectrum.

The Inovor CEO said the CSIROSat build was progressing well after a slow start, with the critical design review now completed. “We are now procuring all of the sensors and we've procured most of the COTS hardware and we're basically in a situation now where we are pulling everything together and starting to manufacture the actual flight hardware. So it's moving along well and still on target for delivery early next year,” he said.

Tetlow said that the company would use its work for Defence and the CSIRO to position itself for bigger and more frequent contracts on the international stage. He said in other parts of the world, particularly Europe and the US, defence agencies and national space agencies were critical in supporting small companies and allowing them to go on to further commercial success – something he hopes can happen in Australia.

“I'm hoping that's what Defence are doing – and it's not only us, other groups as well. Get everybody up to a stage where we've actually flown stuff, demonstrated our technology and everything has worked and now we're in a position where we can go after the big global space economy, and that's very much what we're going after. But initially our focus for the next two or three years will be let's get this flying, demonstrated, iron out all the problems and then push for international opportunities,” he said.

And when it comes to tapping into international opportunities, Tetlow believes that the Australian Space Agency should take on a bigger role on behalf of industry, rather than individual companies or departments all going after the same European Space Agency or NASA contracts.

“It's really important that the industry has a single voice. Up until now everybody goes and tries to talk to ESA on their own or tries to talk to NASA on their own and NASA is dealing with 100 entities approaching them and that's a very bad look internationally. That's not how anybody else works. It should be the space agency is the front door and they go and negotiate and then go back to industry,” Tetlow said.

And on the domestic front, he said it was equally important that government agencies looked to support Australian space ventures.

“There's always a temptation to say lets just buy something from overseas and pay them to set up a headquarters here,” Tetlow noted. “I think that doesn't benefit all of the downstream industry and all the other support industries around. So I think it's really, really important that they say we can make it in Australia. There's more than enough brainpower in Australia and effort to do this, so we should do it here and I think that they should support us doing it here.” – Geoff Long, Commsday