Researchers join multi-billion dollar smart satellite revolution

The University of Sydney will be a key player in one of the most significant space industry research concentrations in Australia as part of a new Cooperative Research Centre for Smart Satellite Technologies and Analytics.

The centre is set to have "a transformative and profound impact" on Australia's space industry.

The centre is set to have “a transformative and profound impact” on Australia’s space industry.

The new research centre is a national research powerhouse involving a $190 million investment in cash and in-kind from 82 research and industry partners.

With the addition of $55 million in Federal Government funding through the Department of Industry, the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) is a significant investment in space industry research and development.

The new centre is set to meet the Australian Space Agency’s goal of lifting Australia’s space industry to the value of $12 billion, which is set to generate an extra 20,000 jobs within the sector by 2030.

The University’s involvement has brought together a team of engineering academics including Professor Branka Vucetic, Professor Dacheng Tao, Professor Yong Hui Li, Associate Professor KC Wong and Dr Xiaofeng Wu, whose combined expertise spans 5G communications, IoT (internet of things) technology, embedded systems, small satellites and artificial intelligence.

Leading the University’s involvement from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering is Dr Xiaofeng Wu, whose research has focused on small satellites, embedded systems, sensors and actuators and on-board intelligent data processing.

“As satellite technology becomes smaller and is deployed in constellations, increased opportunities exist for significant processing and AI techniques that will allow advanced analytics to be carried out on-board,” he said.

“Smart satellites will enable power, network, and control efficiencies, with AI techniques effectively ‘unlocking’ satellites capabilities by enabling the processing of payload data directly with immediate results,” explained Dr Wu.

Professor Branka Vucetic’s research in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering has pioneered wireless communications systems internationally, having been awarded the NSW Premier’s Prize for Excellence in Engineering for her work in adaptive coding theory.

“Satellites can provide mobile and long-range communications essential for IoT in transport logistics, mining and agriculture. However, existing satellite communication technologies are unable to support large numbers of IoT connections and their latencies are too high for mission critical applications,” said Professor Vucetic.

“The centre will develop new satellite communication technologies with massive connectivity and low latency, integrating them with the emerging terrestrial 5G cellular network in order to provide ubiquitous communication coverage.

“A new generation of satellite communications will open up new IoT opportunities on a smart farm, such as agricultural drones, sensors for crops and livestock monitoring, bringing reduced generated wastes and enhanced productivity,” she said.

Renowned artificial intelligence and robotics expert from the School of Computer Science, Professor Dacheng Tao says the increased investment in research and development is a welcome move, and will provide a significant boost to Australia’s space capabilities.

“The new satellite platform will usher in a new wave of disruptive progress by enabling AI researchers to challenge the boundaries of existing algorithms and to devise new algorithms,” said Professor Tao.

“The accompanying research programs will have a transformative and profound impact that will influence many sectors and aspects of our daily lives such as farming, stockbreeding, environment monitoring, weather forecasting, to name a few”, he said.

The new CRC will be headquartered in South Australia but will establish state nodes to ensure the whole of Australia is involved in the development of smart satellite technologies.

SmartSat CRC CEO-Designate from the University of South Australia Professor Andy Koronios believes the new CRC will re-energise Australia’s satellite communications, with the University of Sydney playing a pivotal role.

“The University of Sydney was one of the founding Universities of the SmartSat CRC and helped define its Research Agenda. We are delighted that they will be contributing their world leading expertise in advanced communications, analytics and space engineering to the CRC’s research effort,” he said.

New CRC to facilitate multidisciplinary knowledge share

Partners in the CRC include Australian-based global companies such as AIRBUS, BAE, MDA, Northrop Grumman, Saab, SciSys, Dassault Systems, and THALES; Australian companies such as Nova Systems, OPTUS, SHOAL, and FrontierSI; Australian startups – including X-Lab, Myriota, Fluorosat, Fleet, Innovor, Lyrebird, Delta-V and x-lab.

Australian universities and research organisations involved in the CRC include UniSA, ANU, UNSW, RMIT, Swinburne, QUT, Curtin, CSIRO, DST, the Universities of Queensland, Adelaide, Western Australia and Sydney; and international collaborators, UCL, Catapult, NASA, the European Space Agency and the National University of Singapore among many more.

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