The Australian Earth Observation from Space Roadmap

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The Australian Earth Observation from Space Roadmap

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What are the goals of the Australian Earth Observation from Space roadmap and how it can benefit from international collaborations like the COALA project?

Late last year, the Australian Space Agency released its Earth Observation from Space roadmap for 2021-2030. This roadmap highlights that many sectors of the Australian economy and society, ranging from agriculture, disaster responses, to climate science and sustainability, are increasingly relying on Earth observation data and technologies (as shown in Figure 1), for developing effective solutions and responses. 

Figure 1: Earth Observation from Space relies on a wide range of technologies that can provide images using different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Image from: Australian Space Agency Roadmap

What are the benefits of Earth Observation?

In 2020 alone, the economic benefits that Earth Observation brought to Australia were estimated at around AUD 2.5 billion. The global Earth Observation market has been valued at approximately 2.7 trillion USD. And, that market is firmly grounded in Asia Pacific nations, representing about half of the global market. The financial benefits are enormous, and those benefits do not include a wider range of non-monetary co-benefits arising from Earth Observation. In the same way, satellites are helping us to better understand our planet’s behaviour (e.g., the latest submarine eruption of the  Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano in Tonga was a ‘first ever’ capture from space of an eruption, which helps scientists learn more about how lava and water interact) and to plan development sustainably.

Accordingly, Earth observation data even underpins the way we interact with and respond to our environments and the future building of infrastructure. Earth Observation data can give us pre- and post- pictures of phenomena occurring (e.g., natural disasters), helping in rescue and planning.  Thus planning of future infrastructure benefits from Earth Observation data, allowing us to ask:  what is there? Where?; how far is it from the planned infrastructure. 

The Earth Observation from Space Roadmap identifies several civil space priority areas (shown below). For example, satellite data in these areas informs multi-sectoral research and development and decision making of government, industry, universities, other research institutions.

Image from: Australian Space Agency Roadmap

Experts contributing to the preparation of this roadmap point to six areas of services that Earth Observation can help:

  1. Socioeconomic effects. Reliable tested Earth Observation data assists in critical decision making. These vital decisions impact many aspects of society, improving the quality of life for many. The Space Agency example is increasing the availability and quality of water, essential in a dry nation.
  2. Future workforce. A workforce trained in STEM supports careers across the entire Earth Observation Data chain. When we invest in careers in this data chain we invest in diverse careers spanning space systems engineering through AI through to data analytics.
  3. Increased security and resilience. Earth Observation data can be used to help keep us safe from natural disasters and better respond when they do occur. For example, an Australian company called Fireball is launching a satellite that will be able to detect bushfires within one minute of ignition, whereas at present people report bushfires by calling 000. The same data help us monitor the seas that surround our island nation, tracking pollution and use of ocean resources.
  4. Increased productivity. Data from Earth Observation satellites help us better manage our resources, which is crucial in a resource-limited continent.
  5. Downstream development. When we work on Earth Observation data, we learn how to handle it better. We can then use these skills spill over into other areas, which increase the ways we look at and tackle global challenges.
  6. Economic growth. Manufacturing and the downstream spatial capabilities help us create jobs, improve supply chains, and flow-on benefits in other areas.

At present, those in Earth Observation in Australia use data that is captured by satellites that are not Australia-owned (such as the Sentinel satellites of the European Space Agency) to develop services and products of the above-mentioned categories.

The roadmap also identifies priority areas of work for the Space Agency in the areas of

  1. Supporting sustainable industry in Australia that can build satellites and payloads capable of meeting niche national data needs, making valued contributions to international missions, supporting economic and industry growth, and providing resilience for Australia’s defence, meteorological, environmental and climate monitoring needs.
  2. Building on Australia’s leadership as a data integrator for EO through roles on international coordination bodies.
  3. Ensuring continued Australian access to the trusted international EO data that supports Australia’s EO sector.

 There are many areas that are working to realise these priorities including areas that R&D projects like the COALA are tackling: data quality assurance, international EO partnerships.  Other areas include: Australian EO missions and payloads,  integrity monitoring, enhanced data management, international EO partnership and leadership, and access to global data and missions. We will explore each of these areas in next week’s follow up blog.

How can COALA’s experience help advance the roadmap?

Many of the priority areas identified by the Space Agency overlap with COALA’s own goals. COALA is an international consortium of 11 partners who are using data from the European Copernicus programme. We ground-truth that data in the Australian context and make it accessible to farmers. We are using our experience to work with stakeholders on-farm, in industry and in government. And we are working to communicate the reliability of this Earth observation data to help support a sustainable future in Australian agriculture.

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