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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 data sets.

To date, our Earth observation-related activities have relied heavily on Earth observation data provided by foreign satellites. CSIRO recently purchased a 10 per cent share of time on a new satellite called NovaSAR-1 and providing Australia with direct access to one of the world’s most sophisticated satellites.

NovaSAR-1 – A new era in observing Earth from above

[Music plays and a split circle appears with images of different CSIRO activities flashing through on each side of the circle and then the circle morphs into the CSIRO logo]

[Image changes to show a view of a CSIRO sign on the side of the Curtin University building]

[Image changes to show Dr Amy Parker talking to the camera, and text appears: Dr Amy Parker, Director, CSIRO Centre for Earth Observation]

Dr Amy Parker: Australia is one of the largest users of Earth observation data but historically we’ve relied on data provided by foreign satellites. 

[Image changes to show a blue screen with a computer screen in the background, and text appears: Direct tasking control]

[Images move through of the NovaSAR-1 orbiting the Earth in a facing view, and then the image changes to show a side view of the satellite orbiting the Earth]

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has secured a 10% share of time on the Earth observation satellite NovaSAR-1 giving Australian scientists direct tasking control and allowing us to decide when and where data is collected over our region.

[Image changes to show a view looking down on the satellite moving over Australia and imaging the Fleurieu Peninsula area of Australia]

The NovaSAR-1 satellite uses an advanced form of radar technology known as ‘Synthetic Aperture Radar’, or SAR. 

[Images move through to show the Earth bathed in sunlight, the Earth at night, and then the Earth with clouds swirling over the surface]

Rather than relying on sunlight, this means the satellite can take images of Earth at night and through all weather conditions, including heavy cloud and smoke.

[Images move through to show a side view of Amy and a male looking at a computer screen, a rear view of them looking at maps on the screen, and then a side view of them looking at the screen]

Being able to see through cloud is particularly useful in tropical regions or during rainfall events where heavy cloud cover blocks the view of optical satellites.

[Image changes to show a blue screen with the NovaSAR-1 satellite in the background, and text appears: The SAR sensor]

[Image changes to show Amy walking up some steps towards the camera and talking]

The SAR sensor on board NovaSAR is different to other satellites, operating at what is called S-band.

[Image changes to show a side, and rear view of a female working on a computer, and then the image changes to show two females walking towards a bank of computer screens displaying maps]

This presents exciting new opportunities for science and research.

[Images move through of the females looking up at the maps, a closer view of the females looking at the maps, and then Amy working on a computer]

The satellite’s imaging capabilities can be directly used by Australian scientists, who can apply for satellite imaging time, or access thousands of images already collected that are available for free via the online NovaSAR-1 Data Hub.

[Image changes to show a blue screen showing a view of an arid area in the background, and text appears: Managing Australian environments]

[Images move through of a view looking down on fires burning at night, a close view of fire burning on a mountain, a view looking down on the Earth’s surface, and a view of a flooded river]

NovaSAR-1 is an additional tool we can use to map, monitor and manage Australian environments, observing changes over time and allowing us to better assess the impacts of climate change.

[Image changes to show Amy talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show a rear view of Amy and a male looking at a computer]

Through our access to NovaSAR-1, we are also building important capabilities for our future.

[Images move through of a close view of Amy’s hand operating a mouse, a rear view of Amy working on a computer, and a CSIRO logo sign on a wall]

We’re developing new skills in our science community and we’re learning how to operate and manage satellites, allowing us to better support future Australian space programs.

[Images move through of a group of workers assembling a piece of space equipment, and then the image changes to show a male guiding a piece of equipment which is being lowered by a crane]
NovaSAR-1 is also helping to support new local space industries. 

[Images move through to show data on a computer screen, cords in the back of equipment, views of the receiving station, and then workers looking up at the radio telescope at the receiving station]

Satellite data from NovaSAR-1 is downloaded directly to Australia using a receiving station near Alice Springs that’s operated by the Centre for Appropriate Technology, Australia’s first and only Aboriginal owned and operated ground segment service provider.

[Image changes to show a blue screen and cords in a supercomputer can be seen in the background, and text appears: A valuable data advantage]

[Images move through to show the NovaSAR-1 orbiting the Earth, a ship in the docks, a tractor pulling a chaser bin next to a harvester through a crop, and views of a facility near a coastal city]

Through our share of NovaSAR-1, CSIRO is increasing access to and the use of SAR data for applications in Australian science, and providing a valuable data advantage to the many Australian industries that are now harnessing the estimated $2.5 billion in economic benefits flowing from the Earth observation sector.

[Image changes to show Amy talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show the NovaSAR-1 satellite orbiting the Earth]

NovaSAR-1 is an important step forward, securing and enhancing Australia’s Earth observation capability, both now, and well into the future.

[Music plays, and the image changes to show the CSIRO logo on a white screen, and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]

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The NovaSAR-1 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, smoke and even at night.

With Australian researchers now able to access this capability, we are able to map, monitor and manage Australian environments and inform disaster management practices during events such as bushfires, monitor oil spills and the impact of flooding and tropical storms.

The satellite was successfully launched on 17 September 2018 (AEST) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India by Antrix Corporation – the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation. It is now going through a commissioning period.

CSIRO's Centre for Earth Observation operates our share of NovaSAR-1 as a national research facility, providing Australian researchers the opportunity to task the satellite to acquire imagery in support of R&D projects, with time awarded on a merit basis.

The agreement, with a value of $10.45 million over seven years, allows CSIRO to direct the NovaSAR-1 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 from NovaSAR-1?

Having the right to direct the satellite will enable us to collect data more quickly to assess the impact of 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.

Access to the volume of 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 bushfire fuel load management, flood management, impending volcanic cloud events, 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; land subsidence; water cycle modelling; mapping waterways and coastal habitats; geological mapping; and deforestation. We'll also gain experience in direct 'shutter-control' of Earth-observing satellites.

Our new partnership with SSTL 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'.

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