The first development of its kind in Australia, two commercial satellite ground stations have been built on Aboriginal-owned land in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Owned, built and managed by Indigenous companies, Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT) and its subsidiaries, Ekistica Ltd and CfAT Satellite Enterprises, the project was funded by Indigenous Business Australia (IBA). Indigenous construction company, Ingkerreke Commercial also laid the concrete foundations for the stations in December 2019.

The multimillion-dollar facility will change Australia’s earth observation capabilities, with the new infrastructure potentially reducing the delay of high-resolution imagery from days or hours to just minutes.

This will improve disaster management nationally, including during bushfires and cyclones, as well as enhance Australia’s environmental monitoring, search and rescue, and border protection.

Committed to connectivity and technology, CfAT works across multiple sectors including Aboriginal communities, organisations and Land Councils, with all levels of government, as well as the private, tertiary and VET sectors.

CfAT’s subsidiary, technical consultancy firm Ekistica Ltd, has worked on innovative, sustainable projects from Darwin International Airport to South Australia’s Waterloo Wind Farm.

CfAT CEO, Peter Renehan, said the new facility “puts Aboriginal people at the forefront of Australia’s growing space sector”.

“There is currently limited supply of suitable earth observation ground stations in Australia,” Renehan said.

“Here in Alice Springs we are strategically located to take advantage of this fast-growing market. The site is so perfectly located that we will be able to downlink imagery across the whole of Australia’s land and waters.”

Renehan said CfAT is excited about what the new technology can offer community, including the potential for use by Indigenous ranger groups in looking after Country.

Extending their reach beyond central Australia, the stations are also part of a global network of ground stations operated by Viasat Inc, called Real Time Earth.

IBA Chair, Eddie Fry, said this opportunity was important not only for the Australian space industry but Indigenous communities, too.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people own or control significant areas of land in remote areas where there is limited economic potential. This first of its kind development on Aboriginal land gives the community both economic and social returns,” Fry said.

“The technology has many commercial applications, such as for remote asset management, agriculture, carbon abatement, insurance, finance, and mining.

“Strongly aligned with the priorities for the Australian Space Agency, this investment puts CfAT on the map as a commercial technology innovation hub.”

The facility will improve Australia’s disaster management. Photo supplied by Ekistica Ltd.

Fry said he sees a bright future for CfAT, who he believes are now well-positioned to become a leading Australian participant in the satellite and space industry.

“Not only will this facility generate commercial returns for Indigenous Australians, it will create wider industry opportunities for the Northern Territory,” he said.

“CfAT will invest in training Aboriginal people in maintaining the facility and build its capacity for bringing innovative technology-based programs to Aboriginal people in the region.”

By Hannah Cross