UniSA to lead biggest ever space research initiative in Australian history

SOURCE: Shutterstock
The SmartSat CRC is the country's biggest effort thus far in developing Australia's space capabilities.

By U2B Staff 

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The University of South Australia has been appointed the lead institution in a multimillion-dollar research collaboration aimed at catapulting Australia to the forefront of the global space race.

The university, together with nearly a hundred other local and international research and industry partners, will form a consortium to develop SmartSAT CRC, a cooperative research center for smart satellite technologies and analytics. The center’s goal is to create “leapfrogging technologies” in advanced telecommunications and smart satellite systems that will provide Australia with real-time connectivity, surveillance and sensing over its land, sea and oceans.

It will be funded with a AU$55 million investment committed by the Australian federal government through the Department of Industry, Science and Technology, and a further AU$190 million in cash and in-kind payments from the center’s industry partners.

At a total of AU$245 million, the initiative is a national-first for Australia and its biggest ever investment in space R&D.

Current statistics suggest that Australia’s space sector is underperforming. The industry currently employs between 9,500 and 11,500 people and produces annual revenues between US$3 and US$4 billion. This means that Australia’s share of the US$400 billion global space economy is just 0.8 percent, even as its share of the total world economy is 1.8 percent.


Yet, with major players like the US, China and Russia dominating the lead, the global space industry continues to grow at breakneck speed. Estimates say the industry is growing at a much quicker rate than the global economy – 9.5 percent vs 2.5 percent – which means the space sector will be worth more than US$1 trillion in just a matter of a few years.

Not to be left behind, Australia is on a mission to develop its domestic space industry. The government in early April published its plan to grow the industry over the next decade, with an overarching aim of tripling the current size of the sector to AU$12 billion and generating some 20,000 jobs by 2030.

Setting up the SmartSat CRC is among the first order of business. 

The center will be headquartered in South Australia on the same floor as the Australian Space Agency in Adelaide but will also be launching state nodes for the development of smart satellite technologies. This will enable the involvement of all states in developing the country’s defence, telecommunications and monitoring technologies.

“Our goal in bringing together the bid for SmartSat was to show the huge potential and capacity there is in Australia to make an impact globally by developing leapfrogging technologies in areas where we have some of the best expertise on the planet – AI, advanced communications and remote sensing analytics,” said SmartSat CEO designate, UniSA’s Professor Andy Koronios.

He noted that despite Australia’s land mass occupying nearly 1/10 of the planet, the country’s has very little presence in space. Australia, Koronios added, should halt its reliance on the space capabilities of other nations to meet its communication and connectivity needs. 

Satellite view of Melbourne.
Earth observations from space help researchers understand and predict weather and extreme climatic events, as well as monitor rivers and oceans, and urban developments. Source: Shutterstock

“For example, through their advanced remote sensing capabilities with satellites passing over Australia every day, other nations have the ability to predict our crop yields before we can.

“As we advance at a pace to an era of machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things, satellites are becoming central,” he said.


Through SmartSat CRC, he said, Australia’s satellite communications expertise and capacity will receive the reinvigoration it needs. This will benefit Australians long into the future, from improving communications among its communities to helping the country monitor and protect its environment, enhance its understanding of climate change and advance the progress of new industries.

The CRC’s list of partners is a who’s who of space technology, from the likes of Airbus to BAE, MDA, Northrop Grumman, Saab, SciSys, Dassault Systems, THALES, Nova Systems, Optus and SHOAL.

Also participating in the center are Australian startups X-Lab, Myriota, Fluorosat, Fleet, Innovor,  Lyrebird and Delta-V. Other university and research organisations involved include the Australian National University, University of New South Wales, RMIT, Swinburne, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Defence Science and Technology (DST) group, and the universities of Queensland, Adelaide, Western Australia and Western Sydney.

International collaborators involved in the initiative include the likes of UCL, Catapult, NASA, the European Space Agency and the National University of Singapore.