Earth observation to play key role in building Australia's space industry

23 Apr 2019
Satellite image
Middleton in Queensland, Australia – Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data (2018) Processed by Peter Scarth

The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, has recently announced that the Smart Satellite Cooperative Research Centre (SmartSat CRC) will receive $55 million in funding through the Cooperative Research Centre Programme for the next seven years.

At the launch, SmartSat CRC CEO designate Professor Andy Koronios, University of South Australia said the SmartSat CRC comprises 84 local, national and international research and industry partners.

“These organisations have contributed $190 million in both cash and in-kind investment. With the addition of the $55 million federal government funding through the Department of Industry, Science & Technology’s CRC Programme – the SmartSat CRC will be the biggest investment in space industry collaboration in Australia’s history!” he said.

While headquartered in South Australia, the SmartSat CRC will be a truly national industry research collaboration. It will ensure nation-wide involvement in the development of advanced communications and smart satellite technologies to help build Australia’s space industry, develop capability and know-how and help transform its major industries such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

Professor Stuart Phinn, University of Queensland (UQ), and designate Research Program Leader for the new CRC’s Earth Observation Research Program, and Director of Earth Observation Australia, welcomes the announcement and the new era of collaboration it will enable.

“The University of Queensland, along with other core partner FrontierSI, is excited to be leading a unique seven-year program on Earth observation analytics, one of the CRC’s three research programs,” Professor Phinn said.

“The CRC will enable a new level of national collaboration for building our capability to turn the ever-increasing global streams of satellite data into the essential information industry, government and defence requires,” he said.

“In turn this opens up new activities in our agriculture, horticulture, power and water supplies, linking ground based sensors and regularly updated satellite information to measure and monitor the environment in ways that have not previously been possible.

“Earth observation data are recognised as essential information infrastructure for all levels of government activity in Australia, from local to state and national scales. EO data also supports critical decisions for industry, and our power and water suppliers, and provides large amounts of the geospatial intelligence our defence forces use.

“The SmartSat CRC will build on Australia’s growing expertise in transforming multiple forms of satellite data into decision-ready information for all these applications, and in turn create greater demand for our own Earth observation satellites,” Professor Phinn said.

The team working on Earth observation analytics is led by UQ and FrontierSI, and partners with science teams at CSIRO, RMIT University, Curtin University, Sunshine Coast University, Queensland University of Technology and Swinburne Institute of Technology and a number of other Australian universities , as well leading global industries that build and deliver satellite systems, and our own growing group of Australian SMEs with global impacts, such as Fleet, Myriota, FluroSAT and Ozius.

The Earth Observation Analytics program will work closely with the two other research programs, on Intelligent Satellite Systems  and Smart Satellite Communications. Part of the SmartSat CRC’s unique contribution will link all three research programs to design, build and launch an intelligent satellite constellation for Australia.

The SmartSat CRC’s Earth Observation Analytics program will be part of a Queensland led national initiative with CSIRO’s Space Innovation Exchange program that will establish an Earth observation analytics hub in Brisbane. The hub was identified in the Queensland Parliament Inquiry into jobs creation from the space industry as a key recommendation for building Queensland and Australia’s space industry.

Dr Graeme Kernich, FrontierSI CEO, said that the SmartSat CRC will be a vital part of the fledging space industry in our nation.

“The SmartSat CRC will bring together government, industry and academia to work on the big R&D challenges. FrontierSI’s role will be to look at the research through a broader lens and help create further demand for Earth observation data and analytics across agriculture, mining, logistics and environmental management of natural disasters, such as fire and floods.”

The SmartSat CRC is a collaborative research effort based at the University of South Australia that will provide enhanced connectivity, navigation and monitoring capability of our country and its resources by solving major satellite system and advanced communications challenges. It will catapult Australia as a leader in niche areas of intelligent satellite systems, advanced communications and earth observation driven data analytics.

For Interview: Professor Stuart Phinn,,  +61 401 012 996