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Airbus signals plans to play key role in Australia’s space renaissance

written by Max Blenkin | June 13, 2018
Airbus is to establish an operating base in Western Australia for the the Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite Capability. (Airbus)

Airbus has signed a pair of partnership agreements with Australian companies and institutions, signalling it plans to play a significant role in Australia’s space renaissance.

Nicolas Chamusy, head of Space Systems for Airbus Defence and Space, said it was their intention to work with academia, SMEs and startup companies to develop Australia’s sovereign space capability, nurturing and developing areas of strategic priority and leapfrog technologies.

“Airbus has identified strategic space opportunities in Australia, including leveraging Australia’s R & D expertise and potential partnerships with industry on space-based applications,” he said.

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In one agreement, Airbus will become a founding member of the new SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), led by the University of South Australia and Nova Systems.

Airbus will provide funding for seven years for the CRC’s research activities in areas of advanced communications, intelligent satellite systems, earth observation data analytics and space regulatory and policy environment.

The second agreement is with the University of NSW and its space company Skykraft to develop hyperspectral remote sensing technology.

Australia was a pioneer of space exploration, hosting British rocket launches from the South Australian outback. In 1967, Australia became only the third nation on earth to design, build and then launch its own satellite.

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Australia has been a major user of space services and has pockets of excellence but until now there’s been no guiding organisation. The new Australian Space Agency officially starts up on July 1 with former CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark as inaugural head.

In Australia, Chamussy will visit the new space agency, meet ministers and defence officials and attend the Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference on building Australia’s strategy for space.

Airbus is a major player in space services. The company makes satellites for commercial, scientific research and military applications and ground facilities .

The company is also a shareholder in Arianespace which provides launch services at the French  government owned facility in French Guiana.

Arianespace’s third flight of 2018, performed by Ariane 5, successfully orbited satellites for operators in Japan and the UK. Flight VA242. DSN-1/Superbird-8 and HYLAS. (Arianespace)
Arianespace’s third flight of 2018, performed by Ariane 5, successfully orbited satellites for operators in Japan and the UK. (Arianespace)

However, Airbus satellites are launched wherever the customer desires, including the US, Russia, India and Japan, but not yet from New Zealand.

Chamussy said Airbus was establishing a space footprint in Australia, investing $18 million in the SkyNet 5 satellite ground station in Adelaide and to establish the first operating base in Western Australia as part of the ongoing development of the Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (or HAPS).

“It seems there is a huge trend in this country to change gear and make a significant advance and progress in the space domain, he said.

“There is clear momentum… to have an overarching agency overlooking all the commercial and civilian space business and to develop industry.”

Chamussy said it was wasn’t just Australia – other countries were also developing their space industry.

“There is renewed interest for space. Capability is cheaper than it used to be in the past, especially to launch. You can launch much cheaper than you could 20 years ago.”

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