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US growth beckons for Aussie space entrepreneurs

US growth beckons for Aussie space entrepreneurs

Stephen Kuper

For Dr Jason Held of Saber Astronautics, technology has changed the way we interact with space. Nowhere is this clearer than in the satellite industry, which provides the services we use on a daily basis, changing the lives of Aussies and their businesses forever. 

Saber Astronautics is motivated by the democratisation of space. 'Democratisation' in this context means that anyone, of any age and background, can participate in the industry. 

This is important because in the 21st century economy  space is ubiquitous to our daily life – commercial satellites form the highways for communication, navigation and imagery, meanwhile banks use space to value land and to co-ordinate trading, while individuals use satellites to interact on a global scale.

In defence terms, space is a key force multiplier, often referred to as the 'ultimate high-ground' used for precision guided munitions, navigation and intelligence.  

Technology has changed contemporary satellites; today’s satellites are becoming smaller and cheaper. 

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How much smaller is important because, with the costs of a new small satellite being less than half the cost of a juice bar franchise, space is now boot-strappable and many new entrants have entered the field. 

 Saber Chief Executive Officer, Dr Jason Held said, "Here in Australia our revenues grow in parallel to the domestic market, so we do everything we can to help Australians grow both in the civil and military arenas."  

 

What was once an industry of 75 single satellite launches per year is now demanding flights for hundreds of satellites per company. The 1,200 satellites in orbit today is expected to triple within a decade. 

Even in Australia, with the national Space Agency only a few months old, is seeing a growth of 90 new companies in the last three years, $80 million investment, representing 300 new satellites to launch and operate by 2022.

The Australian Space Agency intends to grow Australia's local ecosystem from a $3 billion import economy to a $12 billion export opportunity.

How does this work? Australia has to manufacture and fly but many new entrants are nontraditional. Some entrepreneurs hire excellent engineers but for many it will be their first time flying.

Entrepreneurs must integrate dish control, diagnostics, situational awareness, mission planning and space weather in a single seamless operation. Today’s tools are designed for large, single spacecraft, multibillion-dollar missions.

They are bespoke with heavy integration requirements and training. It’s like having to knead your own bread every time you want to make a sandwich.

"We are also setting up bundling partnerships with Australian sensors and dish providers as I feel strongly that Australians are more compelling as a group than we are as individuals," Held explained. 

For Saber, democratising space means making space tech so easy to use that kids can use the technology. This is exemplified in the Predictive Groundstation Interface (PIGI), which leverages commercial technology, namely video game tech, in order to monitor space assets and live data feeds.  

Meanwhile, machine learning provides the operator complete visibility throughout the course of mission, which range from a single satellite to hundreds in a constellation. 

As a local start-up, Saber provided PIGI support to help new ventures in both Australia and the US get off the ground. Saber is the first company to succeed at utilising machine learning for space and has built a reputation around this capability.

"Now that Saber's situational awareness and machine learning capabilities compete internationally we can significantly increase our US exports over the next few months," he said.

This success paved the way for interest from traditional space organisations and operators, which now include NASA and the US Air Force and a growing list of traditional of traditional satellite communications companies.  

This is an important data point for Australia as its new space industry enters the international stage.

As the space industry grows we will find many Australian innovations that start for small satellite problems and scale nicely for larger missions. It is evidence that space manufacturing, for many years an anathema by Australian traditionalists, can bear fruit.

"Watch this space for more news in the coming weeks from Saber's growth in the US," Held said. 

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