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SmartSat CRC to prioritise disaster communications research

Max Blenkin

The SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has announced details of its first research and development projects, with disaster communications at the head of the list.

SmartSat CRC to prioritise disaster communications research
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SmartSat chief executive Professor Andy Koronios said following the nation’s crippling summer of bushfires, the top priority for the CRC was the development of accurate, reliable communications technology for disaster management.

That will see SmartSat collaborate with NASA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and local industry partner, Safety from Space, on a project with broad international implications.

“Critical communications infrastructure is often damaged during a major fire incident, which may complicate rescue efforts and put lives at further risk,” he said.

“We are meeting with NASA this week to discuss a project that will adapt existing emergency beacon technologies into a form of miniaturised satellite radio, connected into a national incident data management system that will deliver a complete, real-time picture of disaster zones and ensure reliable communication for individuals and communities in danger.”

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In another project, SmartSat will work with partners and relevant agencies to establish a national network to monitor the quality and quantity of surface and ground water.

Called the AquaWatch Australia Mission, this project is to be undertaken in partnership with the CSIRO. It will feature a national mission to establish a mini constellation of dedicated AquaWatch satellites, complemented by a network of thousands of terrestrial water sensors uploading data continuously in near real-time.

“In conjunction with government, industry and scientists, we will be enabling the development of a comprehensive, national monitoring system to provide precise, decision-ready information on quality and quantity across Australia’s waterways and reservoirs, essential for the operation of all levels of government in sustaining basic water services for all Australians,” Professor Koronios said.

The SmartSat-CSIRO Aquawatch program will initiate a suite of additional projects benefiting regional stakeholders including primary producers, environmental managers and resource companies, representing just one part of SmartSat’s broader commitment to regional development.

“One major impediment to growth in many regional areas is lack of communication infrastructure, which is often far inferior to that found in capital cities,” he said.

“That not only prevents business and industry from investing in these regions, but also makes individuals reluctant to relocate, even while many experts point to the great need to grow Australia’s regional areas.”

The SmartSat CRC was launched in April to boost Australia’s growing space sector, leveraging national expertise in satellite capabilities.

That involves 99 industry and research partners, including 13 global companies, 20 Australian firms, 17 universities and more than 40 space sector start-ups.

The federal government contributed funding of $55 million and total funding is now $245 million. The organisation has its headquarters in Adelaide.

“With the Space Agency, SmartSat and the many fast-growing space start-ups at Lot Fourteen, it’s obviously an exciting time in Australia’s space journey,” Professor Koronios said.

“However, the impact of all this activity will not be in space – the real impact will be the solutions and opportunities these initiatives deliver back on Earth.”

SmartSat CRC’s other first round R&D projects address various technical elements of this national communications challenge, with the goal of establishing cost-effective, sovereign satellite capability to deliver secure, high-speed data nationwide.

“These technologies represent the future of how the world communicates and Australia is home to internationally recognised experts in the field,” Professor Koronios said.

“Now, the mission for the SmartSat CRC is to co-ordinate research in a way that not only solves the unique challenges posed by Australia’s sprawling geography, but in doing so, shows the world a better way to communicate.”

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