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Solving the satellite data challenge

A newly launched Australian space start-up is set to tackle the challenge of a huge influx of satellite data – by tracking hundreds of satellites at the same time.

The satellite industry is currently booming, with a predicted 57,000 to be launched around the world over the next decade. These will increase the amount of all kinds of data streaming back down to Earth, from weather information to financial transactions to environmental monitoring like spotting bushfires or tracking elephants.

Every satellite needs a home base to communicate with on Earth but present-day satellite ground stations typically track one satellite at a time, leading to heavy congestion and limiting the successful deployment of satellites and the downstream industries they support. Credit: CSIRO

But current generation ground stations, which involve mechanically operated dishes, can typically only track one satellite at a time. This will become increasingly impractical and costly, creating a bottleneck when trying to get data down to the ground.

A new era of technology is needed – which is where Quasar Satellite Technologies, launched today, comes in.

“Space is the highway of the stars, but current ground station technology is the equivalent of one-lane on-ramps,” says Quasar CEO Phil Ridley.

“By making it possible to communicate with hundreds of satellites simultaneously, we’ll be able to ensure the thousands of satellites launching over the next decade have a way to call home efficiently.”

To achieve this, the company will use phased array technology developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, to connect with multiple satellites and decode individual satellite data.

Professor Alan Duffy, Director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute at Swinburne University, explains that this technology was originally developed for Australian astronomy research – in particular, the ASKAP radio telescope in Western Australia, which combines data from 36 antennas to form a single eye on the sky.

CSIRO’s phased array technology was developed to give radio telescopes a wide-angle view of the sky. Credit: CSIRO

“One of the latest and most exciting breakthroughs in radio has been the creation of phased array feeds by the CSIRO, which allows one telescope to focus on dozens of places in the sky at once,” Duffy explains.

“This cutting-edge technology from astronomy was designed to help us find more galaxies in greater detail, and now it’s helping us communicate with more satellites than ever before, helping the growing space industry worldwide.”

According to Quasar, it will work a bit like a cloud computing service. The technology will be offered as a service, allowing commercial and public partners to access data from satellites in low, medium and geostationary orbit – in real-time, anywhere in the world.

“Using our advanced satellite tracking and prediction software suite, satellite ground station end users can submit requests and the system will schedule and initiate satellite contact and data downlink,” the company explains on their website.

“This is a wonderful reminder that blue sky research forces us to innovate and push the boundaries of technology, and that benefits Australia and our economy in ways that can’t be predicted when we first start the research,” Duffy says. “But without that investment in research today we won’t get those new technologies tomorrow.”

Quasar has received $12 million in funding and is backed by Australian companies Vocus, Saber Astronautics, Fleet Space Technologies and Clearbox Systems.

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