Collaboration not competition is key to building a space ecosystem

Thousands of experts from around the world gathered in Colorado Springs in April for the annual Space Symposium. Hosted by the Space Foundation since 1984, the event connects all sectors of the space ecosystem from international space agencies, national security organisations and government agencies, through to commercial space businesses and entrepreneurs.

This year, more than 15 heads of space agencies presented to over 10,000 attendees from more than 40 countries. Australia hosted a strong delegation, including representatives from the Australian Space Agency, the CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation and Austrade, as well as entrepreneurial companies like Gilmour Space Technologies, Black Sky Aerospace, and Spiral Blue.

Solving Problems on Earth from Space

Spiral Blue was founded in 2017 to solve problems on earth with solutions from space. They are doing this with Space Edge Services, a platform for processing earth observation data in space. According to Taofiq Huq (Founder and CEO, Spiral Blue), “We mainly work in the area of earth observation – imaging the earth and using those images for agriculture, forestry, maritime, defence, and government purposes like planning. Normally, organisations would have these images captured by satellite, sent to the ground and then processed into a format that can be easily read by decision makers. In comparison, we do the processing on the satellite itself, which reduces the cost considerably.”

For Taofiq, attending the Space Symposium was an important business accelerator. “The Space Symposium was an extremely valuable experience. Encouragingly, Australia had the biggest stall at the conference, with room for 10 to 15 companies to exhibit. I spoke to a range of personnel from around the globe about the various opportunities there are for Spiral Blue. It was thrilling to learn more about the huge volume of opportunities that exist in the United States—so much so that I think we will eventually set up a subsidiary in the US.”

In particular, the Symposium enabled Spiral Blue to facilitate collaborative working relationships with international partners. “The Symposium was about finding other companies we can work with. There were several companies I was able to meet with who are looking to acquire image capture capabilities, as well as defence and government bodies that need intelligence that Spiral Blue can deliver.”

Expanding Global Opportunities

“The Symposium really underlined need for collaboration in the space industry. Space really is an emerging industry. There are companies forcibly competing with one another, but we should be working together to better educate the market. Collaboration is how you build an ecosystem and an industry. The space industry in Australia is just not at the scale where we can afford to be fighting with one another—to leverage the global opportunities available, we need collaboration, not competition,” said Taofiq.

These global opportunities are set to expand, with a joint Statement of Intent between the Australian Space Agency and NASA signed at the Space Symposium, and the Australian Government committing almost $1.2 billion to Australia’s first ever National Space Mission for Earth Observation in the Federal Budget.

Four space satellites will be designed, built and operated from Australia as part of $1.16 billion 16-year earth-observation national space mission. The project will be Australia’s first space mission and is expected to generate 500 jobs and involve 100 local companies in the initial design and build phase.

Collaboration—Not Competition

Clearly, space is a highly challenging, complex operating environment. But the potential economic and societal rewards are immense. This means that, for Australian start-ups like Spiral Blue, the risks and rewards are equally immense. So, the imperative to collaborate is heightened.

This need for collaboration saw Spiral Blue come together will leading companies to receive co-investment via AMGC’s Commercialisation Fund. The funding will see the development and space qualification of the Rainbow Python: a world first integrated hyperspectral instrument and onboard computer. Satellite based hyperspectral imaging can be used for chemical analysis of any location on the Earth, enabling applications for agriculture, forestry, mining, and other industries. Spiral Blue will collaborate with partners Esper, Dandelions and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Australia spends an annual $5.3 billion on satellite observation to provide data for national industries such as defence, mining, oil and gas, agriculture, and finance. However, there are many problems associated with satellite imaging.

Rainbow Python will tackle the satellite imaging problems by utilising Spiral Blue’s Space Edge 1 Hyperspectral to analyse stored hyperspectral data cubes while Esper’s Over The Rainbow high resolution hyperspectral imager will attempt to capture these datacubes. Rainbow Python will be Australia’s first hyperspectral mission.