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UK-Australia collaboration drives space innovation

Join us as Oli Madgett catches up with Dr Moira Smith, D-CAT Chief Technology Officer, talking all things 'Digital Content Analysis Technology', the value of taking a global view on precision agriculture, and the UK-Australia Space Bridge - a partnership focused on facilitating collaboration between the two countries’ space sectors.

Dr Moira Smith, Chief Technology Officer of D-CAT. Photography by Solomon Scopazzi.

There has been a consistent push from UK and Australian stakeholders over the last few years to increase collaboration across space technologies – think remote sensing, Earth observation, mapping, satellite data – with farmers, consumers, and the planet, being the likely beneficiaries.

Dr Moira Smith, Chief Technology Officer of Digital Content Analysis Technology (D-CAT) has been working closely with farmers to explore the direct benefits of space-based technologies on-farm.

“By bringing insights together that are saving money, saving time – we’re able to give farmers very regular updates and let farmers look at their crops and look at things like the topsoil, moisture, the health of the crop and so on,” explained Moira.

“This was very useful, and still is very useful and is being used by farmers and viticulturists, but a lot of folks said to us [throughout our trials], ‘Can you give us more? Can you help us save time?’ So now we’re alerting things that are problematic, like frost damage.”

Farmers were curious about the future possibilities and how D-CAT could provide further support. Moira said farmers asked, “If you could find where we’d been frosted, and maybe how badly we’d been frosted, and also let us action it – so giving us a prescription map so we can do something about it.”

This growing appetite for information and tech-enabled action is a top priority – and the UK and Australia are working together on this to enable farmers globally.

With the support of the UK Government, Australia is managing to attract more and more world-leading technology companies to share learnings and collaborate with local agritech leaders, bringing together the collective brainpower and investment of two innovation systems.

RELATED: Space technology, a powerful tool for Australian farmers

So what value does global collaboration create when it comes to space tech and farming?

“Getting the perspectives of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres – they’re very different agricultural environments, but they have the same challenges. Being able to understand both, and bring together the innovations that are coming from both countries,” said Moira.

Oli Madgett interviewing Moira Smith from D-CAT

“Now with the UK-Australia Space Bridge, there is more and more collaboration starting to happen,” Moira added. “With other organisations and government working behind the two countries.”

“D-CAT and Adelaide University’s Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) are collaborating [through the Space Bridge program] to explore the benefits that can be brought to crop classification, yield prediction and plant breeding programs through hyperspectral imaging. A next generation of satellites will allow this type of analysis to be possible, including South Australia’s Kanyini, and so having the capabilities ready to bring value to agriculture is very important.”

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The Space Bridge – a collaboration between the UK and Australia

The 23 February 2022 marked the first anniversary of the Space Bridge between the UK and Australia – a partnership focused on facilitating collaboration between the two countries’ space sectors.

A world first, the Space Bridge has unlocked improved access to trade, investment and academic research opportunities, better advice to businesses and innovative bilateral collaborations.

The arrangement enhances cooperation between the UK and Australian space sector to work on space-related activities, from sharing Earth Observation data to collaborating on robotic and artificial intelligence.

RELATED: Setting the scene: The UK agritech market opportunity

Several exciting initiatives have taken place since the signing in 2021, including the UK’s Space Sector Export Academy, which facilitated workshops for UK SMEs on trade policy, export regulations, finance and tax, insight into the Australian space landscape and practical advice on business pitching. The graduation event in September 2021 enabled 23 individual engagements between UK companies and Australian industry, academia and government.

UK-Australia Space Bridge – First Anniversary

With a global audience of up to 1,000 attendees, the virtual UK and Australia roadshows showcasing key strategies, strengths, and capabilities of the space sector last year were instrumental in facilitating engagement between UK and Australian investors and collaborators across industry and academia.

The first funding call launched under the UK-Australia Space Bridge has also been hugely successful, with five collaborative research projects receiving a total of £250,000 from SmartSat CRC and the Satellite Applications Catapult, with the support of the UK Science and Innovation Network. Digital Content Analysis Technology Ltd (D-CAT), OneWeb and Spire Global UK were among those to benefit from the funding and are currently working on the projects due to be completed by the end of June 2022.

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency said, “Although separated by many seas, the Space Bridge has connected the UK and Australia in whole new ways. It is unlocking greater innovation, promoting the exchange of knowledge and forging new partnerships to maximise the vast potential of our growing space sectors.”

“The Space Bridge is a prime example of how we can join forces with our partners to catalyse investment and help meet the UK’s increased ambitions in space. International collaboration is a key pillar of the UK National Space Strategy and we are proud to be working with our Australian colleagues to leverage resources and opportunities from across Government, industry, academia, and private investors – driving forward this exciting initiative.”

Sam Adlen, Chief Strategy Officer at the Satellite Applications Catapult said, “As the Space Bridge reaches its first anniversary, it is clear that strong foundations have been laid. It has been great to work with impressive Australian colleagues, and to see the partnerships developing and the potential future impact that will be delivered. The opportunity for space enabled growth is only growing, and the strong ties between the UK and Australia will enable the capacity and utility of the space bridge to grow significantly for the benefit of both countries and citizens globally.”

RELATED: Global collaboration needed to drive Australian agrifood innovation

“The UK-Australia partnership is a priority for the UK space sector, bolstered further by the UK’s recent £1m commitment for Earth Observation in Agroclimate to help farmers deal with climate change. A team from the UK visited Australia and multiple agriculture, fishery and forestry R&D partners in March 2022, to explore further opportunities to collaborate and co-invest in Earth Observation technologies that support sustainable supply-chains.”

To find out more about the UK-Australia Space Bridge, reach out to Lara Krasnostein [email protected] or read more here.

This information was originally published by the UK Government.

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