Australian nano-satellite pioneer Fleet Space on US trajectory

Austrade

Australia’s Fleet Space Technologiesis a satellite company whose leap-frog technology helps utility companies protect critical infrastructure in remote places. Fleet Space is a true innovator:

  • The company designs and builds its own nano-satellite payloads in Adelaide.
  • It uses ‘digital beamforming’ technologies that until recently only existed in theory on board nanosatellites.
  • Its world-first, 3D-printed antenna increases satellite throughput by a factor of 10.

The result is a technological revolution. Fleet Space connects thousands of remote sensors installed in network infrastructure across the Australian outback. This creates a real-time internet of things (IoT) monitoring service for some of Australia’s largest utilities and mining companies.

In this case study, CEO and Co-founder Flavia Tata Nardini explains how her company broke new ground in Australia and launched its world-beating technology in the United States.

Protecting remote infrastructure in the 2020s

The vast distances that separate Australian cities, towns and settlements create a unique set of problems for utilities companies. When storms topple power lines or pipes leak, it can take hours or days to locate the problem. Maintaining that infrastructure is an epic endeavour. Protecting it is a growing challenge.

Founded in 2015, Fleet Space is helping solve that challenge. It helps companies to secure their assets with a real-time monitoring network, using a constellation of nano-satellites.

‘Maintaining network infrastructure in Australia is difficult because it is often spread over a huge area,’ explains Flavia. ‘When something goes wrong, there’s no network coverage to help locate or report on the problem. In Australia, about 40% of utility assets are in areas with no connectivity.

‘This lack of connectivity is a growing problem,’ she adds. ‘Most new renewable energy infrastructure is installed in remote locations. Without reliable maintenance and fast reactions, this increases the risk of blackouts. Also, critical infrastructure needs to be protected.’

Fleet Space combines 3 astonishing technologies

Fleet Space solves this challenge by combining some amazing technologies. First, the company designed a new kind of ground network to connect monitoring devices to the gateway, called Fleet portals, or mini-ground stations. Sensors are fixed to infrastructure such as poles and wires and transmit real-time data. The gateway portals can pick up these signals from within a radius of 15 km.

Next, the portals transmit the data to Fleet Space nanosatellites. Edge computing on the ground and in the satellite drastically reduces the bandwidth required to deliver the monitoring service. Fleet Space’s proprietary digital-beamforming technology also gives vast coverage for a low-power network. This helps make the service efficient to set up for each client.

On board the satellite, Fleet Space deploys another piece of Australian-made wizardry. The company has produced the world’s first 3D printed, all-metal, patch antenna to be placed on satellites. This increases by a factor of 10 the throughput capacity for satellite communications. Alerts and data are then transmitted from the satellites to clients.

‘By combining these technologies we can deliver unrivalled two-way, planet-wide connectivity,’ says Flavia. ‘The Fleet Space team designed this system here in Australia – and the satellite payloads are built here as well. We just launched our sixth satellite into low-earth orbit.’

Fleet Space Centauri 3 satellite in orbit over Earth

Fleet Space Centauri 3 satellite in orbit over Earth

Austrade and the Australian Space Agency back space innovation

Fleet Space launched its own commercial service in May 2019. The Australian Space Agency (ASA) provided a grant to enable Fleet Space to gain ISO accreditations for manufacturing and cyber security. This was part of ASA’s mission to triple the size of Australia’s space industry. The industry is already growing by 7% per year and is set to be worth A$12 billion by 2030.

Austrade also helped out. In April 2021, Austrade and the South Australian Government engineered a panel slot for Flavia at an S&P Global Platts conference, hosted in New York. The topic was ‘Transformation in Global Power Networks’ – and it has provided a launch pad for Fleet Space’s global ambitions.

‘This conference got us in front of some of the biggest power companies in the US, including the New York Power Authority,’ says Flavia. ‘This was an incredible opportunity to raise our profile and meet potential customers. This shows how Austrade can help new companies in the US – and the value of support from the South Australian Government.’

Trade advisers help Fleet Space make connections in the US

An Austrade adviser based in San Francisco, John Leslie, has helped Flavia connect with other scale-up companies in North America. This has helped Fleet Space to make valuable contacts and nurture potential partners in the US market, including in the cyber security industry.

‘John helped me understand the value of creating strategic partnerships in the US,’ says Flavia. ‘Also, he helps us navigate the complex regulatory landscape. With Austrade’s help we are learning how to scale up in the US in the critical infrastructure market and in cyber security.’

In 2021, Fleet Space began piloting its service with a major mining company in Nevada. The company is also developing opportunities with utilities and mining companies in Canada.

‘With a US-based sales team, I am confident we can grow quickly in America,’ says Flavia.

Australia nurtures skills and expertise in space technologies

Fleet Space is one of a growing band of Australian space companies that is developing leap-frog technologies. Areas of local expertise cover launches, earth observation, and robotics and automation.

In Australia, Fleet Space sells its services to a swathe of major companies. These include natural gas supplier Seagas, Oz Minerals, Energy Queensland, South Australian utility SA Water, and Snowy Hydro, which includes 9 hydro-electric plants.

‘We are a small company with just 50 space scientists and technology experts, but we are a showcase for the Australian space industry,’ says Flavia. ‘We have amazing skills in Australia: this is where all our research and development is done.

‘This year was a first for us, because we broke into the US market. We are now investing in manufacturing output to increase satellite production from 3 per year to 50. We aim for a constellation of 140 satellites in low-earth orbit. When complete this will unlock opportunities around the world.’

About Austrade

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) is the Australian Government’s international trade promotion and investment attraction agency.

We deliver quality trade and investment services to businesses to grow Australia’s prosperity. We do this by generating and providing market information and insights, promoting Australian capability, and facilitating connections through our extensive global network.

To discover how we can help you and your business, visit austrade.gov.au or contact us on 13 28 78 (within Australia).

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