Emergency comms a priority for SmartSat CRC

Monday, 24 February, 2020

Emergency comms a priority for SmartSat CRC

Bolstering emergency communications is a top priority for SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), following Australia’s crippling summer bushfires. 

Working with NASA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Safety from Space, the development of more accurate and reliable disaster management communications forms one of SmartSat CRC’s first projects, the centre announced at the 9th Australian Space Forum

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

Australia’s lack of satellite communication capability meant the country had to call on US satellites to help coordinate bushfire responses.   

As a result, the centre had a meeting scheduled with NASA last 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.

The centre also plans to work on technologies that enable its partners and relevant agencies to establish a national network to monitor the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater across the country.

The AquaWatch Australia Mission will see SmartSat, CSIRO and other partners work to establish a ‘mini constellation’ of dedicated satellites, along with a network of thousands of terrestrial water sensors that will upload data continuously in near real time.

It’s expected to spark a suite of other projects aimed at helping regional stakeholders, such as primary producers, environmental managers and resource companies, and developing those areas.  

“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,” Prof Koronios 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,” he added.

SmartSat’s seven remaining first-round 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. 

Developing independent space capability would not only help protect Australia’s national security but also “improve the economic outlook in a range of important industries”, Prof Koronios argued in an opinion piece last year, referencing the UK’s potential cut-off from technologies it’s invested in in the event of a no-deal Brexit and concerns about Australia receiving data slower than partner countries. 

It would also benefit Australia’s defence sector and individuals, SmartSat CRC said later.

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

“Now, the mission for the SmartSat CRC is to coordinate 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.”

Launched six months ago, the Lot Fourteen-based organisation has good chances of achieving that mission, with over 100 national and international partners supporting its endeavours.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/rottenman

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