Collaboration the key to space tech

Larry Marshall

With this week marking the official opening of the Australian Space Agency Headquarters in Adelaide, Australia is on a fast track into new frontiers. The Space Agency is already stimulating investment in space related startups and industries, and encouraging the next generation to dream, innovate and rethink what they can achieve.

Successfully exploring space and delivering real-world benefits is inherently collaborative. I’m reminded of this reality every time we celebrate another success in the field – from standing inside the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and watching the Cassini spacecraft crash through the rings of Saturn, to tracking a giant asteroid as it zoomed closely past Earth, to the moments I spent with our teams this summer as we responded to the approaching bushfires.

This summer’s devastating bushfire season has highlighted a national opportunity to leverage our Earth observation data in responding both to the fires themselves, and to the subsequent heavy rains in some parts of the country that are creating knock-on problems.

Larry Marshall: The key to to space breakthroughs is collaboration

For example, water quality issues related to heavy metal contamination and algal blooms that result from the high level of nutrients in ash that is washed into waterways.

Australia has always been a land of drought and flood, but space can help our resilience.

As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO has always solved the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology. We understand the power of the network to amplify the outcomes of individual institutions – CSIRO couldn’t have made the lives of every Australian better without its partners.

Collaboration across industry, the startup community, research and a new generation of STEM champions is the key to ensuring Australia recovers our globally respected place in the space industry.

But networks don’t self-form, and underpinning investment in the space technology of the future is a vital ingredient and is already making a difference.

CSIRO is working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Australian Space Agency as a key technology advisor to triple the size of our space industry by 2030 to benefit all Australians – and not just during emergencies.

In 2020, we can expect to see the continued growth of space-based technologies in helping us meet our nation’s greatest challenges. There are four significant space technology trends to watch out for in 2020.

Firstly, the development of sovereign satellite infrastructure will give us unprecedented access to images and information never seen before.

CSIRO has purchased a 10 per cent share in the NovaSAR-1 satellite, which can take images in all weather conditions, including through clouds and at night, and inside the great columns of smoke that obscure the devastation of bushfires.

We are also extending our imaging capability into the infrared spectrum, working with an industry partner Inovor Technologies to build CSIROSat-1 – a nanosatellite which is essentially no bigger than the size of a loaf of bread.

These miniature satellites offer a low-priced admission into space infrastructure – and can operate as a network, leveraging the power of a single institution by sharing it many times across the whole network.

Secondly, this new network of Earth observation data will drive rich new streams of information to supercharge our predictive models for environmental management, bushfires, water quality, and of course, also enhance existing commercial applications like precision agriculture.

Satellite images provide us with broad context – allowing us to identify, track, and solve the biggest challenges. Data volumes received at ground stations will grow quickly – from an already high baseline – as more satellites and space missions are launched.

So, thirdly, to support this even greater volume of data, there are new communication technologies underway to make data transfer and on-board mission data processing faster. Developments will include optical communications, an area where CSIRO is collaborating with partners like ANU to push new boundaries.

Recently, for the first time we saw a European Space Agency deep space antenna send commands to two ESA spacecraft, simultaneously. These are important steps in communicating with missions across space.

Lastly, in situ use of space resources. With future missions planned to the Moon and Mars, it is already apparent we will need to use resources that can be found there. Mars has a flight time of over 200 days, it’s impractical – and prohibitively expensive – to take all that we’ll need from Earth.

Our expertise in robotics and 3D printing from mineral sands create new opportunities in this space. In December 2020, the Japanese space agency’s Hyabusa2 mission will return to Earth in South Australia, carrying with it a sample from asteroid Ryugu. This will help us build a deeper understanding of the composition of space rocks.

It’s great to be a part of the Australian space sector, which is already working so closely together, and these relationships will make all the difference.

Space technology offers us a way to create new advantages for Australia. Underpinned by continued national and international collaboration we can not only make the impossible possible, but we can build a prosperous future for generations to come.

Larry Marshall is Chief Executive Officer at the CSIRO

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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