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SmartSat: Space Innovation for Defence

Image Credits: SmartSat, Press Release
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SmartSat held the second Defence & National Security Showcase in Canberra, key government officials, defence and national security stakeholders, and industry representatives were in attendance. The aim was to provide updates on the government’s relevant research projects and strategic directions in the field.

Over 70 attendees participated in the event, which featured a session highlighting research projects and a main Showcase event that outlined the government’s interests in space technology and innovation and how SmartSat contributes to the nation’s defence enterprise.

The research highlights session showcased various projects falling into three categories: space domain awareness, AI in space, and advanced communications, all with potential benefits for the government’s defence efforts.

In the space domain awareness category, the SmartSat Professorial Chair of Sentient Satellites from the University of Adelaide introduced Project P2.36 Satellite Proximity Surveillance System (SatProx), which focuses on developing intelligent payloads to autonomously detect, track, and characterize approaching satellites using manoeuvrable cameras and AI. This technology could safeguard valuable space assets from interference or hijacking.

Another speaker discussed ACTIVE Space Domain Awareness, emphasising the need for more responsive space domain awareness through efficient processing and sensor tasking. Professor Shannon Ryan from Deakin University presented findings from Project P2.50 SatPing, which explores tracking beacons for spacecraft to enhance real-time orbital knowledge.

The AI in space segment began with an overview of the SASAT1 mission satellite Kanyini, which is integrating hyperspectral imaging and IoT payloads. These payloads have potential defence applications, including image tasking and operations, as highlighted by Dr. Seubert. Dr. Sha Lu from the University of South Australia discussed Project P2.38, which aims to develop an energy-efficient solution for the onboard processing of hyperspectral imagery to aid in early fire-smoke detection, potentially benefiting military responses to bushfires. Tharindu Fernando from the Queensland University of Technology introduced Project P2.34, focusing on onboard hyperspectral AI, which aims to improve data gathering, communication, and detailed information inference.

The discussion on advanced communications included Dr Jeewani Kodithuwakkuge from Defence Science and Technology (DSTG) presenting updates on Project P1.28, which seeks to develop a novel communication system for Inter-satellite links at millimetre wave frequencies.

This technology could significantly enhance secure communications for military forces in the field. Fernando Moya from RMIT University discussed Project P1.27, which explores cognitive satellite radios for defence and commercial usage. Professor Stephen Hanly from Macquarie University discussed Project P1.30, focusing on integrated tactical communications and the potential use of low earth orbit satellite networks for various data streams in tactical operations.

All of this research contributes to the SmartSat Indo-Pacific Connector Capability Demonstrator, led by its Defence & National Security Coordinator, which aims to shape future concepts for hybrid space architecture and advance the nation’s understanding and maturity of emerging space technologies to support defence.

The showcase continued with insights from government representatives. DSTG’s Scientific Advisor for the Space Domain within Defence Space Command discussed the integrated defence innovation, science, and technology space program and its strategic goal to ensure space access for defence in both peacetime and wartime. Defense Space Command’s mission is to secure Australia’s interests in space, a mission SmartSat intends to support through its extensive research portfolio and connections to industry, government, and academia.

SmartSat’s CEO highlighted the organisation’s achievements, and its Industry Director Cannard discussed how SmartSat supports technology development from research projects to address industry needs and gaps. A case study of technology development, particularly in optical communications and quantum technology, was also dissected showcasing projects like P1.19 Compact Hybrid Optical/RF User Segment (CHORUS) and P1.18 Coherent Free-Space Optical Communications, which have added to defence capabilities. SmartSat CRC aims to better understand which technologies can have a high-level impact in this critical sector.

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