CSIRO's Aussie satellite open for business

·3-min read

Scientific researchers can for the first time download space images of earth from an Australian national science agency managed satellite.

Valuable homegrown data will be available to industry, boosting the earth observation data sector, which is already worth an estimated $2.5 billion.

Industry, the agricultural sector and natural disaster management organisations have previously had to rely on imagery from other country's satellites.

They can now apply to task the earth observation satellite NovaSAR-1 and access the CSIRO's share of the space capsule's data.

The satellite can take images of the earth through all weather conditions, including heavy clouds, smog and bushfire smoke.

It's the first time Australian organisations will be able to access data from a local provider of earth observation imagery, contributing to the growth of the nation's space industry.

"Until now we have not had direct control over the tasking of an earth observation satellite, despite Australia being one of the largest users of earth observation data," CSIRO executive director of digital national facilities Dave Williams said.

"So the opening of our NovaSAR-1 facility represents a step-change for Australian research and an important step forward for our space industry."

Satellite data will be downloaded to the Centre for Appropriate Technology Satellite Enterprises receiving station near Alice Springs.

It's Australia's first and only Aboriginal-owned-and-operated satellite ground station and satellite dish.

Chief executive Peter Renehan said access to NovaSAR-1 has the potential to benefit many Indigenous communities, like Indigenous rangers who look after land and sea and can use imagery from space to help do their jobs.

"It's important that we can build and own facilities like this right here in central Australia and feel proud that Aboriginal Australians are making such an important contribution to supporting the development of Australia's sovereign capability in the space industry," he said.

CSIRO Satellite Operations and Data Manager Amy Parker said synthetic aperture radar imagery like that from NovaSAR-1 has not been widely used in Australia before.

"We've used the satellite to capture over 1,000 images, all of which are now available to users," she said.

Applications to use the NovaSAR-1 national facility will be reviewed by an independent committee and allocated based on the scientific merit of the proposed research.

The NovaSAR-1 satellite was developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited in the UK.

It was successfully launched in September 2018 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India by Antrix Corporation - the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The CSIRO bought a 10 per cent share of time on the satellite, worth $10.45 million over seven years, in September 2017.

The agreement allows CSIRO to direct the NovaSAR-1 satellite to collect data in a range of different observation modes.

Priority is given to the Australian region.

Synthetic Aperture Radar is a type of active data collection where a sensor produces its own energy and then records the amount of that energy reflected back after interacting with the Earth, according to NASA.

SAR data requires a different way of thinking in that the signal is instead responsive to surface characteristics like structure and moisture.

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