Australian researchers in industries such as agriculture and disaster management can, from today, apply to direct the Earth observation satellite NovaSAR-1, which is part-managed by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.
This will be the first time Australia has managed its own source of Earth observational data.
NovaSAR-1 was developed in the UK and uses S-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to take high-resolution images of Earth from space. Since 2017, CSIRO has owned a 10% share of the satellite’s time, enabling the agency to collect data over the country.
The satellite is particularly useful for industries such as agriculture and emergency management because it can image Earth through all weather conditions, regardless of the presence of heavy clouds or smoke.
“Although Australia is one of the largest users of Earth observation data, until now we have not had direct control over the tasking of an Earth observation satellite,” says Dave Williams, CSIRO’s Executive Director of Digital, National Facilities and Collections. “So the opening of our NovaSAR-1 facility represents a step change for Australian research and an important step forward for our space industry.”
Satellite data will be downloaded to a receiving station near Alice Springs owned by the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT), Australia’s first and only Aboriginal-owned-and-operated ground segment service provider. According to CSIRO, access to the use of NovaSAR-1 will be reviewed by an independent committee and assessed on the scientific merit of the proposal.
Peter Renehan, CfAT CEO, says access to NovaSAR-1 will help Indigenous communities and rangers care for country.
“It’s important that we can build and own facilities like this right here in central Australia and feel proud that Aboriginal Australians are making such an important contribution to supporting the development of Australia’s sovereign capability in the space industry,” he says.
Dr Amy Parker, CSIRO Satellite Operations and Data Manager, says SAR imagery like that from NovaSAR-1 has not been widely used in Australia before.
“So far, we’ve used the satellite to capture over 1000 images, all of which are now available to users,” she says. “NovaSAR-1 is an exciting addition to the country’s Earth observation resources, while also helping us to build our capabilities in satellite operations.”
Amalyah Hart is a science journalist based in Melbourne.
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