Australia’s space and machine learning industries have received a significant boost following the announcement of $35 million in funding from its national science agency.
The CSIRO investment will include the development of advanced imaging of Earth from satellites, in addition to cutting-edge data science to support the growth of AI technology.
Space Technology will receive $16 million to identify and develop the science to leapfrog traditional technologies and find new areas for the Australian industry to work in.
It will initially focus on advanced technologies for Earth observation, and then address challenges such as space object tracking, resource utilisation in space, and developing manufacturing and life support systems for missions to the Moon and Mars.
The funding is the latest in a number of positive developments for Australia’s small but growing space sector and builds on the momentum generated when Adelaide hosted the International Astronautical Congress in September 2017.
At the congress, which attracted more than 4400 industry delegates from across the globe, the Australian government announced it would form a national space agency to help grow the $4 billion domestic industry.
Fleet Space Technologies
South Australia has been a major player in the nation’s space industry and is home to major Tier 1 defence companies and several emerging space startups.
These include Fleet Space Technologies, which opened a commercial tracking station north of Adelaide to track and transmit data from nanosatellites in the Internet of Things global network in July.
This month, Fleet engaged Rocket Lab to launch two of its cubesats — Proxima I and II — from New Zealand. This was the first successful commercial cubesat launch to orbit by an Australian company.
Two more Fleet satellites will be launched to orbit in the coming weeks — Centauri I and II — in separate missions aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and ISRO’s PSLV C43. The satellites are part of Fleet’s mission to bring some 75 billion devices online.
Research and data-driven solutions
The CSIRO funding also includes $19 million to target AI-driven solutions for areas including food security and quality, health and wellbeing, sustainable energy and resources, resilient and valuable environments, and Australian and regional security.
This follows the announcement last month that Lockheed Martin Australia has become the first foundation partner with the University of Adelaide’s new Australian Institute for Machine Learning in South Australia. The strategic partnership will deliver world-leading machine learning research for national security, the space industry, business and the broader community.
The University of Adelaide’s new Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) — which builds on decades of expertise in artificial intelligence and computer vision — will be based in the South Australian government’s new innovation precinct at Lot Fourteen in the heart of the city.
The Lockheed Martin team will work with University of Adelaide researchers and students at AIML on leading-edge technology, advancing the capabilities needed to meet complex and dynamic challenges in the areas of national security — including next-generation machine reasoning for automated information processing and decision support — and advanced algorithm development for air, sea, land, cyber and space systems.
The primary research areas include platforms to improve prediction and understanding of complex data, platforms to enable trustworthy inferences and risk-based decisions, and data systems to enable ethical, robust and scalable AI.
The CSIRO investment is part its Future Science Platforms (FSP) portfolio, aimed at dedicating research to new and emerging opportunities for Australia.
They aim to help reinvent old and create new industries, as well as grow the capability of a new generation of researchers through specially-created student places in these ‘future’ fields.
Space technology and artificial intelligence join eight other areas of future science, including in the fields of health and energy.
By 2022, the CSIRO Future Science Platforms program will have invested $205 million since launching in 2016.
“Our Future Science Platforms aim to turn Australia’s challenges into opportunities where new science can break through seemingly impossible roadblocks to give Australia advantages on the world stage,” CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said.
“Innovation needs deep collaboration, so our FSPs bring together this nation’s world-class expertise across all fields of science, technology, engineering and maths to deliver real solutions to real-world problems.”
“CSIRO is here to solve Australia’s greatest challenges through innovative science and technology — and to do that we have to invest in the big thinking and breakthrough research that will keep us ahead of the curve.”
The latest investment in Space Technology builds on the launch of CSIRO’s Space Roadmap for Australia and supports the newly formed Australian Space Agency’s goal of tripling the size of the domestic space sector to $10-12bn by 2030.
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