Microsoft boosts hi-tech footprint in Australia’s surging space industry


Microsoft Azure Space Lead for Australia, Lynn McDonald, explains the opportunities for Australia in the global space market. These include:

  • why Australia has the potential to disrupt the global space industry
  • the role of geospatial data in fueling innovation on the ground
  • how Austrade put Microsoft Azure Space in front of industry leaders.

‘Australia has an opportunity to develop sovereign capabilities and build up its own space industry. It can also influence global markets in areas that are unique to Australia,’ says McDonald. ‘There is amazing energy and evolution in the Australian space industry.’

Australia: a market leader in the space sector

Australia has a long history in space. In 1967, Australia was the third country after the US and Russia to design and launch a satellite to orbit Earth. Australia’s space tracking stations played a pivotal role in the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Australia has developed world-class capabilities in space-related fields. This includes:

  • satellite and wireless communications
  • space debris monitoring
  • automation and robotics
  • ground stations
  • Earth observation data analytics
  • advanced sensor and antenna technology.

‘There are phenomenal space startups in Australia,’ says McDonald. ‘They include Saber Astronautics, Myriota, Fleet Space Technologies, Clearbox Systems and Raytracer. These companies have impressive capabilities, experience and talent.’

Space-generated data fuels innovation in industries

Microsoft sees its Azure cloud compute platform and Azure Space technology development playing a fundamental role in growing Australia’s space industry. Its ambition is worldwide satellite connectivity and conversion of space-generated data into industry-specific solutions.

‘We are focused on artificial intelligence and advanced analytics for space,’ says McDonald. ‘We want to take this rich data and draw out insights for customers across industries. This could be helping retailers understand their logistics and supply chain. It could be enabling agricultural customers to assess land use and maximise crop yields. Or it could be detecting and managing bushfires and flooding. We are also working with CSIRO in tracking the migration of protected species.’

Geospatial data is growing enormously, demanding expanded data processing, storage and analytics. Simultaneously, there is increasing need for bandwidth and cloud services in remote zones.

Driving advancements in Australian capabilities

‘Australia’s commercial space industry is just starting out,’ says McDonald. ‘There’s an opportunity to disrupt old models, using speed and agility, and build a new paradigm. Technology transformation is forcing momentous change. We need a new framework that facilitates that speed of innovation.

‘Australia has an opportunity to lead advancements in areas that are unique to Australia. These areas include remote operations, remote connectivity, operating in challenging climatic and environmental scenarios. There is a lot the global market can learn from Australia.’

Australia committed to space commercialisation

Founded in 2018, the Australian Space Agency’s role is to stimulate commercial investment in space. It aims to triple the sector’s contribution to Australia’s GDP from A$3.9 billion in 2018 to A$12 billion by 2030. It also aims to generate an extra 20,000 jobs over that time.

‘We fully support the Australian Space Agency’s strategic priorities and growth ambitions,’ says McDonald.

‘There will be sustained operations on the Moon. Humans will get to Mars. Australia holds that vision. We want to enable that and work with everyone from startups to established companies.’

Taking technology to new heights

Microsoft has already launched Azure into orbit. It partnered with Hewlett Packard to connect Azure for analytics on the International Space Station. This allows the team to process data in space for medical sciences and space weather.

The Australian Government has invested A$150 million in Australian businesses working on the Artemis project. This NASA-led project aims to return astronauts to the moon. This move is certain to create more opportunities for local industry and its partners.

Austrade a key ally in connecting with partners

McDonald says Austrade has been ‘phenomenal’ in opening doors. It has helped Microsoft start growing professional relationships with leaders in Australia’s space industry.

‘Austrade was instrumental in setting up a Digital Space Symposium in 2020 in the US,’ she says. ‘We met with 14 companies in the Australian space industry. We continue to engage with many of them. Some we’ve brought on through our Microsoft for Space Startups program. Others we’ve supported with Azure credits and technology resources.

‘We couldn’t have done some of the work we’re doing in Australia without Austrade.’

Global Talent Visa streamlines relocation to Australia

Austrade also alerted McDonald to the Global Talent Visa. It is a streamlined visa pathway for highly skilled professionals to work and live permanently in Australia. Space is one of the 10 target sectors.

‘In the US, I loved all the work related to the Australian space industry. I also loved the people I was meeting,’ she says. ‘I was super inspired by what the companies were doing in Australia. When I landed on the Global Talent Visa, I jumped on it. I relocated to Canberra in March 2021.’

She advises any companies considering expansion to Australia to follow her lead.

‘This industry is thriving. It is such an exciting time,’ she says. ‘There’s plenty of collaboration going on between the companies in the Australian commercial space market.

‘That’s important to build strength in the industry. Business is competitive. But there is a different level of collaboration in Australia that I haven’t seen elsewhere.’

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