The federal government has chipped in $55 million for the South Australia-based SmartSat CRC, a research organisation linking industry and research bodies to develop advanced satellites.
As well as the government funding, announced by Industry Minister Karen Anderson, 84 industry and research partners are contributing almost $190 million in cash and kind.
This makes the SmartSat CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) the biggest ever Australian investment in space industry research and development. The bid for government funding under the Federal Department of Industry CRC program was developed by University of South Australia (UniSA) and company Nova Systems. Late last year, six CRCs were listed for funding, with SmartSat CRC the biggest winner.
Other funding recipients were announced earlier. Though announced during the election campaign, the SmartSat funding isn’t an election promise. Bid leader and SmartSat’s designated chief executive designate Professor Andy Koronios said the CRC will be a game changer for Australia’s space economy.
“Globally, space technologies and industries are worth more than $500 billion but that success has been underpinned by serious global investment in research,” he said.
“Australia has had a strong pedigree and a long history in space with excellent scientific capabilities in instrumentation and communications technologies. But until now, the research has not been brought together to build a new industry for Australia, and to capitalise on the exponential growth of the global space economy.”
Professor Koronios said the new CRC would be headquartered in South Australia but it was a national program that would involve some of the best universities in the country, as well as the CSIRO and Defence Science and Technology Group.
CRCs have long been recognised as a means to further research in particular areas by linking industry with research organisations. This latest round of government funding was the 20th in the long-running CRC program.
The SmartSat CRC aims to direct research into new satellite technology as part of an energised Australian space sector. Professor Koronios said the goal in bringing together the SmartSat bid was to demonstrate the huge potential and capacity in Australia for developing leapfrogging technologies in areas of global expertise including AI, advanced communications and remote sensing analytics.
“For a nation with a footprint covering nearly a tenth of the planet, Australia has had very little presence in space,” he said.
“We cannot rely exclusively on the goodwill of other nations or our deep pockets to meet our communications and connectivity needs or to monitor our nation and our resources.”
Professor Koronios said, for example, other nations could predict Australian crop yields before we could as their satellites with advanced remote sensing capabilities passed overhead every day.
“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.
“This new CRC will re-energise Australia’s satellite communications expertise and capacity and launch a new era of development which will benefit every Australian enterprise into the future.”
BAE Systems Australia chief executive Gabby Costigan welcomed the announcement, saying, "BAE Systems is delighted to be a partner of the SmartSat CRC. It will exponentially grow the collaboration that has begun in earnest in Australia’s space domain. It will be pivotal to the development of new Australian technologies, capable of significantly improving and transforming the nation’s economic performance."
"Space technologies will revolutionise the way we communicate, observe, analyse and interact with faster and more accurate information," Costigan added.
New satellite technology would improve communications for all Australians, help us to monitor and protect our environment, enhance understanding of climate change, protect our borders and our communications systems and advance the progress of new industries, she said.
UNiSA vice chancellor Professor David Lloyd said this was one of the most exciting research collaborations ever forged in Australia.
“We look forward to working with an outstanding international cohort to develop smart satellite and communications solutions for the future,” he said.
“We are delighted to have such strong support from both government and industry in forging a really powerful network for space technology innovation.”
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