Australia needs to develop sovereign space capabilities to avoid using other’s tech

Max Blenkin

In an increasingly uncertain world, Australia needs to develop a sovereign space capability rather than just buying products and services from other people.

Professor Andy Koronios, chief executive designate of the new SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), said that especially applied to agriculture where China understands Australian crop yields sooner than Australian farmers because of its satellite and advanced modelling capability.

In an opinion piece in the Adelaide news website InDaily coinciding with the Space Forum, Professor Koronios said recent global events pointed to a more uncertain and unpredictable world and illustrated the importance of a sovereign technological capability, especially in defence and national security.

A no-deal Brexit could see the UK depart the EU, which could shut UK scientists out of space work with Europe in which they are currently involved in and for which they have paid.

That includes programs like the Galileo satellite navigation system and the Copernicus Earth observation system.

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“By developing our own capabilities, Australia will not only protect its national security from unforeseeable future events like Brexit but also improve the economic outlook in a range of important industries,” he said.

“When people talk about Industry 4.0 you cannot achieve much of that without some space-mediated technology.

 

“That’s why we have to provide and help build an Australian sovereign capability in that area. At the moment, we are just simply buying external products and Earth observation services but we need to control our own satellite applications, especially in agriculture.”

Professor Koronios said Australia collaborated well on crop yields with the Chinese Academy of Science as the Chinese had advanced modelling and their own satellites, which gave them a good understanding of our crop yields.

“They give us that information but we receive it late: they use it first and then give it to us,” he said.

“This means Australian agriculture relies on estimated yields from mobile ground inspectors for future trading, which isn’t as accurate as satellite information.

“This gives the Chinese an advantage in future price negotiations because they know more about our yields than our farmers know and that’s not a good thing.”

Professor Koronios said without our own space science capability, Australia would become reliant on other people's technology and what they charged to access it.

“For example, if someone sells us a satellite technology, say, at 15 per cent profit and, let’s say, another 10 per cent goes towards R&D to improve the next generation of their satellites. This means we are paying an extra 25 per cent for them to become smarter than us. That’s dumb,” he said.

The same argument applies to those questioning why the Americans want to go back to the moon.

By going to the moon, you are getting the know-how and building that technology that you can actually apply on Earth and make our lives easier, healthier and more comfortable, he said.

Professor Koronios said the SmartSat CRC would tackle these sovereignty issues by bringing together experts in advanced satellite technologies around communications and IoT connectivity, sensors and intelligence, and next-generation Earth observation data services.

Five advisory boards have now been established and will begin satellite technology projects by January 2020 in the specific areas of defence, mining, agriculture, logistics and transport and telecommunications.

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