In September 2017, CSIRO announced an agreement to secure a share in one of the world's most sophisticated new satellites, providing us with access to our own satellite data.

New agreement improves our Earth Observation capabilities

CSIRO has well recognised expertise and capabilities in using satellite-derived data to monitor and manage our environment including expertise in the acquisition, storage, processing and analysis of these rapidly growing datasets.

To date, our Earth observation-related activities have relied heavily on Earth observation data provided by foreign satellites.

Testing the NovaSAR sateliite at Airbus Defence & Space.  ©AIRBUS DEFENCE & SPACE

However, in September 2017, CSIRO announced an agreement to purchase a 10 per cent share of time on one of the world's most sophisticated new satellites, called NovaSAR.

The NovaSAR satellite, developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in the UK, utilises Synthetic Aperture Radar (or SAR) which is an advanced form of radar technology providing extremely high resolution images of Earth from space.

The key advantage of SAR technology is that it operates effectively in 'all-weather' conditions. This overcomes the main drawback of traditional optical imaging satellites as it can take images of Earth through clouds, and even at night.

The agreement, with a value of $10.45 million over seven years, allows CSIRO to direct the NovaSAR satellite to collect whatever type of data imagery is required over Australia and the South East Asia region over an initial 4.5 year period, and also provides access to data collected elsewhere around the world.

Under the terms of the agreement, CSIRO is licensed to use and share the data for our own research purposes, and those of our partners and collaborators.

Who will benefit?

Having the right to direct the satellite will enable us to collect data directly in response to natural disasters in Australia and the Asia Pacific region. Studies show that rapid spatial mapping of disaster areas can save up to US$0.5M to US$1M per event.

Additionally, systematic analysis of flood patterns can allow identification of more sustainable areas for grazing, agriculture and habitation and to better understand the impacts of flooding for all at-risk communities.

Access to the volume of SAR data specific to Australia will also provide the raw data required to develop and model disaster and risk scenarios, including use of the technology for bush fire management, flood management, volcanic cloud extent, earthquake prediction, pollution and oil spill monitoring.

With this improved accuracy, we can focus on analysing changes in a wide range of applications including our land and agricultural practices, weather forecasting, climate and water cycle modelling, land use and land cover monitoring, forestry and conservation management practices, carbon accounting, mapping waterways, coastal habitats, seagrass and coral reefs, mineral mapping, hydrology, cartography and cadastral mapping, sea surface temperature and biodiversity monitoring.

What is NovaSAR?

NovaSAR is a revolutionary concept in earth observation satellite technology, developed by UK-based SSTL in conjunction with Airbus Defence & Space.

An artist's impression of the NovaSAR satellite in space.

'SAR' stands for Synthetic Aperture Radar - a highly flexible technology that can overcome the main drawback of traditional optical imaging satellites by imaging day or night, and through cloud cover.

Boosting nation-wide collaboration in space-related research and industry development

Access to NovaSAR data will be a catalyst for applications-specific research and commercialisation of data analytics expertise in the field of remote sensing.

Beyond CSIRO, this new UK partnership will expand collaboration opportunities across government and academia – in areas such as the environment, agriculture and defence – and boost Australia’s civilian space science sector.

This project is also an important step along a growth pathway for Australia’s space hardware and space data services sectors, and will help capture regional and international opportunities in the growing national and international ‘space economy’.

Read further about our expertise in a radio astronomy and space science.

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