Big winners in new Aussie space
Flavia Tata Nardini: One of two great space stories for Australian startups this week
South Australian startup Fleet Space Technologies has won a Dutch government grant to fast-track its “world-first” Internet of Things network for farms around the world, while Queensland rocket company Gilmour Space Technologies has signed a deal with NASA.
It’s never been a more exciting time to be in the Aussie space sector.
Fleet is pioneering “precision agriculture”, using IoT sensor devices and nanosatellites to track and measure the operations of a farm and assist in preventing crop failure.
The grant comes from the the Netherlands’ Small and Medium Enterprise Innovation Program, and will be used to test the Digital Rain IoT Platform via satellites (DRIP) program on farms around the world.
Fleet has an office in the Netherlands, and will use the grant money to trial this new offering.
DRIP is a partnership between Fleet, Dutch sensors provider Disdrometrics and intelligent software provider FactoryLab.
The program involves a local sensor networks placed across a farm that communicate with low-orbiting nanosatellites, to be used in farms and regions where the current communication infrastructure is lacking.
The system would allow farmers to constantly monitor soil moisture, rainfall, humidity, temperature, and precipitation, with the real-time data used to improve efficiency.
The aim is to increase food production in vulnerable agricultural areas around the world, Fleet founder Flavia Tata Nardini said.
“The idea is that if you can track everything closely then you can help reduce crop failure and get cost-savings,” Ms Tata Nardini told InnovationAus.com.
“With our product in the field you’re able to continue to get data from all these points in the farm with intelligent sensors, and then you can act and improve,” she said.
The grant enables Fleet to test its program and prove that it can help reduce crop failure by 50 per cent and ensure greater food production.
“We’re trying to solve this challenge and prove how low-cost it can be, with the efficiency that was missing,” Ms Tata Nardini said.
“You usually can’t measure all these little points in a farm – it’s just too expensive. These are big IoT deployments that need a lot of edge computing and intelligence behind it, and that’s what we are offering.”
“We’re showing the world that this can be done at a low cost with lots of intelligence behind it. We’re allowing everyone to do it themselves without spending millions of dollars on consultants.”
Ms Tata Nardini said there was already a lot of interest in Australia for DRIP and that trials were underway here.
“The real enabler in measuring farms is connectivity. It’s very rare in Australia for an entire farm to have access to 3G. Farmers really do want to measure and improve their production to comply with IoT, but the problem is they cannot connect,” she said.
“What we’re seeing in Australia is the ability to connect the land with this big deployment of IoT is really connectivity around you wherever you are to better understand the farm.”
The program is part of Fleet’s wider aim to launch a constellation of 100 nanosatellites to be used by different industries, including farming, mining and logistics.
The first launch is slated for this year, with an aim to create a free global connectivity network that can plug into the IoT sensors already deployed on farms.
Fleet received a $500,000 grant from the South Australian government earlier this year to put the state “on the map as a space hub”.
Meanwhile, in Queensland rocket company Gilmour Space Technologies has entered into a Space Act Agreement with the US National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) to work together on various research, technology and educational initiatives.
Under the reimbursable agreement, Gilmour Space will initially work with NASA on rover testing at the Kennedy Space Center, with the potential of activities in other areas, including deep space rocket propulsion, space transportation, and live technology support, with other NASA annexes.
According to chief executive and co-founder Adam Gilmour, the agreement came about after the team was invited to test its water extraction robot at the Kennedy Space Center, which recreated the surface of Mars.
Mr Gilmour said he hopes when Australia’s national space agency is established that such collaboration efforts will also be offered to the domestic space industry.
“I think with a little bit of public-private partnership deals like with what NASA does, it could be very effective, so I hope that’s what the Australian space industry does,” he said.
“I hope they’re not just a bureaucracy that regulates launches and satellite usage, but actually do something meaningful that contributes growing the industry in its early stage with some kind of funding.”
The Reference Group, chaired by former CSIRO chief Dr Megan Clark, is due to release its charter for the space agency for inclusion in the federal government’s wider strategy at the end of March.