Thursday, May 19, 2011

Geoscience Australia looking for a Satellite Groundstation Engineer

Geoscience Australia is currently looking for a Satellite Groundstation Engineer to look after its facilities in Alice Springs and Hobart.

The role description includes:

"As the Satellite Groundstation Engineer you will have overall management responsibility over the groundstation facilities that GA operates both independently and cooperatively. You will provide leadership and technical advice to operate and maintain the infrastructure for the effective acquisition of satellite data. You will have good judgement, excellent problem solving abilities, be pragmatic, cognisant of best practice, articulate and personable. You will be able to demonstrate experience and leadership in managing in a technical environment."

For anyone interested in more information about the position, head to the Geoscience Australia jobs website here

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Earth Observation contributes at least $3.3 Billion to Australian Economy

Prepared in September 2010, but released more recently on the Geoscience Australia website, the "The economic value of earth observation from space" report has started putting some economic framework around the value of earth observation to the Australian economy, and conservatively estimates that in 2008-2009, Earth Observation contributed at least $3.3Billion to the Australian economy.

It also estmates that:

"Additional benefits in climate change adaptation, emergency response and natural resource management are conservatively valued at $1.0 billion per year."

The report goes on to highlight just how broadly based the use of Earth Observation data is across the Australian economy, and in particular, the extensive use throughout the various branches and departments of the Australian Governments. 

It goes on to discuss several different government program examples of how Earth Observation data is used, and gives a brief glimpse of the myriad of current applications and programs in Australia, including Climate Change, Natural Resource Management, Natural Disasters and Emergency Management, and National Security.

It is also one of the first reports to put some economic data around the risks facing Australia loosing its access to Space capabilities including:

"The economic cost of a denial of service requiring ‘source shift’ is likely to be at least $100 million in the year during which it occurs."

"A complete denial of service would put billions of dollars of benefits at risk - even if the impacts on Australia’s defence preparedness are ignored."

Perhaps a somewhat disconcerting outcome - particularly the statement "even if the impacts on Australia's defence preparedness are ignored!". I certainly hope this conclusion is spiking attention in Canberra.

The report also suggests that the future is looking positive for the sector:

"it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the productivity related impacts on GDP and the other benefits could increase by around 30 per cent by 2015."

Overall the report is a good start in Australia understanding the enormous impact of Earth Observations from Space. I did get the sense reading the document that every time a number was produced, it was accompanied with "a conservative estimate", which tells me we are yet to consolidate these numbers, but also, reality is likely to produce a higher result.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Australia needs a Cubesat Competition and Prize

Australia needs to get back into orbit. In doing so, a new generation of engineers need to learn about the technology and science required to work in space, and all of the trials and tribulations that accompany such technology. Not wanting to state the obvious, but Australia is currently not capable of building the large satellites that we need for our Earth Observation, Telecommunications and Navigation requirements. But, before we give up on any future hope, we are perfectly capable of building nano and micro satellites. In fact, there are many different projects around the country that have undertaken early work in building such satellites, but none that have achieved launch or operations.

It is time that we get these projects into orbit.

Australia should undertake a cubesat satellite competition in an effort to get us back in the space game in a rapid time frame. The competition could involve Australian teams made up of education institutions, together with industry and perhaps even governement agencies.  

To win the Australian Cubesat competition, teams would have to develop, launch and operate a Cubesat form satellite - 1U, 2U or 3U. The satellite would have to make at least 10 orbits, and transmit data taken from within space (whether that be an image, a measurement of some scientific parameter, or something else) back to an Australian ground station. Whilst cubesats are not considered capable enough to be operational satellites, the data that is sent back should demonstrate a real-world concept of a Space Application that can directly benefit Australia.

The first team to achieve the 10 orbits and data back to earth would be awarded the Australian Cubesat First prize of AUD$1Million. The second team to achieve it would be awarded a prize of $500K, and the third team $250K. Overall, the whole competition would cost less than $2Million, and provide a great boost for the Australian Space industry - and likely get Australia back into orbit again, potentially in a big way if all 3 prizes are claimed. Given cubesats can be built and launched for $250K or less, all three prizes would be very attractive.

Prize money could be provided by the Australian Government Space Policy Unit, perhaps in conjunction with Australian Industry and Private Donors as sponsors. If no-one claims the prize, the money is safe. Prizes have been shown to provide 10 to 40 times the return on investment, so given the Australian Space Research Program relies on a funding matched model, a 10+ return on investment, with payout only upon success, provides a much better return for the Australian Government in stimulating industry.

The Australian Cubesat competition would likely create at least 3 flight proven satellite operations in Australia, and a series of teams and engineers that would be dedicated to both learning, and applying their skills in real world space applications. It would stimulate the Australian Space industry across a range of areas, and allow more complex and capable follow on missions to be envisaged that can address Australian issues using space technologies. It would also be an outstanding educational opportunity for many Australian Universities and even schools to get involved in, and would serve to inspire a young generation into maths, science and engineering fields.

I would love to hear feedback from everyone on such a prize - do you think its a good idea? how could it be improved?