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CSIRO has well-recognised expertise and capabilities in using satellite-derived data to monitor and manage our environment including expertise in the acquisition, storage, processing and analysis of these rapidly growing data sets.

To date, our Earth observation-related activities have relied heavily on Earth observation data provided by foreign satellites. CSIRO recently purchased a 10 per cent share of time on a new satellite called NovaSAR-1 and providing Australia with direct access to one of the world’s most sophisticated satellites.

NovaSAR-1 – A new era in observing Earth from above

The NovaSAR-1 satellite, developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in the UK, utilises synthetic aperture radar (or SAR) which is an advanced form of radar technology providing extremely high-resolution images of Earth from space.

Testing the NovaSAR-1 satellite at Airbus Defence & Space. ©  AIRBUS DEFENCE & SPACE

The key advantage of SAR technology is that it operates effectively in 'all-weather' conditions. This overcomes the main drawback of traditional optical imaging satellites as it can take images of Earth through clouds, smoke and even at night.

With Australian researchers now able to access this capability, we are able to map, monitor and manage Australian environments and inform disaster management practices during events such as bushfires, monitor oil spills and the impact of flooding and tropical storms.

The satellite was successfully launched on 17 September 2018 (AEST) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India by Antrix Corporation – the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation. It is now going through a commissioning period.

Once the satellite is operationally ready, the CSIRO Centre for Earth Observation will operate our share of NovaSAR-1 as a national research facility, providing Australian researchers with the opportunity to task the satellite to acquire imagery in support of R&D projects, with time awarded on a merit basis.

The agreement, with a value of $10.45 million over seven years, allows CSIRO to direct the NovaSAR-1 satellite to collect whatever type of data imagery is required over Australia and the South East Asia region over an initial 4.5 year period, and also provides access to data collected elsewhere around the world. Under the terms of the agreement, CSIRO is licensed to use and share the data for our own research purposes, and those of our partners and collaborators.

Who will benefit from NovaSAR-1?

Having the right to direct the satellite will enable us to collect data more quickly to assess the impact of natural disasters in Australia and the Asia Pacific region. Studies show that rapid spatial mapping of disaster areas can save up to US$0.5M to US$1M per event.

Access to the volume of data specific to Australia will also provide the raw data required to develop and model disaster and risk scenarios, including use of the technology for bushfire fuel load management, flood management, impending volcanic cloud events, earthquake prediction, pollution and oil spill monitoring.

With this improved accuracy, we can focus on analysing changes in a wide range of applications including our land and agricultural practices; land subsidence; water cycle modelling; mapping waterways and coastal habitats; geological mapping; and deforestation. We'll also gain experience in direct 'shutter-control' of Earth-observing satellites.

Our new partnership with SSTL will expand collaboration opportunities across government and academia – in areas such as the environment, agriculture and defence – and boost Australia's civilian space science sector.

This project is also an important step along a growth pathway for Australia's space hardware and space data services sectors, and will help capture regional and international opportunities in the growing national and international 'space economy'.

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