Developed by UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology — and with a payload supplied by Airbus UK — the satellite will give the CSIRO and the wider Australian research community an advanced form of radar technology known as S-band Synthetic Aperture Radar, or S-band SAR, which provides high resolution images of earth from space.
The CSIRO says the S-band SAR technology is a significant advancement on current civilian satellite capability, enabling images to be taken day and night, and through cloud cover, which is especially useful in tropical zones and cloud-affected areas.
Under the deal — worth $10.45 million over seven years — the CSIRO and SSTL have agreed to a 10% share of 'tasking and acquisition' time on the NovaSAR satellite, which is due for launch later this year.
Dr Dave Williams, executive director of digital, national facilities and collections at CSIRO, said the deal represented a significant investment in Australia's space capability.
"The aim is to manage the NovaSAR satellite as a natural extension of the significant role CSIRO already plays in managing a range of National Facilities, on behalf of the Australian community of scientists and for the benefit of the nation.
"Because we'll be able to direct the satellite's activity, it provides significant opportunities to support a wide range of existing research, further develop Australia's earth observation data analytics expertise, and create new opportunities in the field of remote sensing."
The CSIRO says some of the practical applications for NovaSAR satellite data and associated research projects include:
- Rapid natural disaster identification, monitoring and assessment including after cyclones, floods, earthquakes, pollution and oil spills;
- Improved infrastructure and agriculture mapping in Northern Australia;
- Monitoring crops and assessing factors such as plant biomass and soil moisture;
- Detection of illegal deforestation;
- Flood risk assessment; and
- Monitoring shipping routes and detecting illegal activity.
Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos said the agreement was a timely investment in Australia's space capability.
"Australia is one of the largest users of earth observation from space data world-wide, with satellite data underpinning more than 100 state and federal resource mapping and environmental monitoring programs across Australia," he said.
"This agreement will allow CSIRO, via its national facility management capability, to strengthen Australia's delivery of excellence in science and innovation. It will help CSIRO lead our nation's development in the technical and analytical capability of modelling, monitoring and analysing our natural resource management and approaches to infrastructure.
"This will also lead to better and more informed support for policy and decision-making and, ultimately, our economic development as a nation."
Sinodinos said the new opportunities had the potential to build stronger research partnerships between the government, universities and the wider space industry in Australia.
In developing the NovaSAR-S technology, commercial director of SSTL, Luis Gomes, said the NovaSAR-s system provided “revolutionary technology” to deliver imagery at any point on the globe.
"Our partnership on the NovaSAR mission with CSIRO will greatly enhance Australia's sovereign Earth observation capability," Gomes said.
"The NovaSAR-S technology enables data collection 24/7, regardless of daylight or weather conditions, which is particularly important for this continent with an area with a tropical climate and a large coastline territory.
"We look forward to working with CSIRO as one of our key partners over the next seven years to provide cutting-edge geo-spatial data for Australia's benefit."