Manufacturing in South Australia is undergoing a period of rapid transition and growth, with the state becoming a breeding ground for numerous exciting new ventures, notably in the space and defence sectors.

South Australia is home to major defence companies such as BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Saab Australia, as well as several emerging space start-ups, including Fleet Space Technologies, Inovor Technologies and Myriota. The state capital Adelaide is home to the Air Warfare Destroyer project and the Future Submarines project, which promises to deliver 12 Attack Class submarines to the Australian Navy to replace its Collins Class fleet.

Satellite research centre to advance Aussie space industry

The Australian space industry has received a $245m injection with the launch of the Cooperative Research Centre for Smart Satellite Technologies and Analytics, headquartered at the University of South Australia in Adelaide. The national SmartSat CRC will bring together a $190m cash and in-kind investment from 82 industry and research partners with a $55m pledge from the Federal Government over seven years. The $245m in funding for advanced telecommunications and intelligent satellite systems makes the SmartSat CRC the biggest space industry research collaboration in Australian history.

Bid leader and University of South Australia Professor Andy Koronios said until now Australian capabilities in instrumentation and communications technologies had not been brought together to capitalise on the exponential growth of the US$345bn space economy.

“For a nation with a footprint covering one 10th of the planet, Australia has had very little presence in space,” said Krononios. “We cannot rely exclusively on the goodwill of other nations to meet our communications and connectivity needs or to monitor our nation and our resources.”

Koronios added that Australia could also no longer rely on terrestrial connectivity as the world started connecting everything from cattle to hospitals digitally with Industry 4.0 applications: “No amount of land-based communication infrastructure can fully solve the digital divide that exists in a massive country like Australia.”

The SmartSat CRC plans to build a flock of satellite assets that Australia can task and control to be the country’s first space infrastructure for connectivity and earth observation. The satellite constellation is envisioned to provide advanced remote sensing capabilities to help Australian farmers, border security and emergency services monitor the expanse of Australia.

“We will create a data freeway in the sky by using new, game-changing technologies such as laser and quantum communications and artificial intelligence systems,” Koronios said.

The SmartSat CRC bid is the latest in a series of announcements that have cemented South Australia’s position as the headquarters for the space industry in Australia. Late last year Adelaide was announced as the home of the Australian Space Agency, to which a $6m Mission Control Centre for small satellite missions and an educational Discovery Centre was added in March. Last December Southern Launch also announced it would establish a launch facility on Eyre Peninsula, in the state’s west.

The South Australia Space Industry Centre, launched in 2017, has been instrumental in helping establish the space sector ecosystem in the state and reports that there are more than 70 companies employing 800 people in the industry in South Australia, including Italian space company SITAEL.

Micro-X to develop mobile X-ray security products for Thales

Adelaide-based company Micro-X has signed a contract with Thales Group to develop its mobile X-ray products for security purposes. Micro-X manufactures carbon nanotube X-ray systems that are portable and adaptable for multiple industries and is based at the Tonsley Innovation Precinct in Adelaide’s southern suburbs alongside several other advanced manufacturing companies such as SAGE Automation and Siemens. Under the new contract with Thales, Micro-X will develop multiple image processing systems for defence and security purposes.

Thales is a multinational security company that develops products for aerospace, defence, transportation and security technology markets. Under a six-year convertible bond, Thales is investing $10m in Micro-X with the proceeds designed to develop a selection of the company’s products.

Micro-X’s Managing Director, Peter Rowland, said the deal is a key inflection point in his company’s development and changes its growth trajectory.

“The close, long-term working relationship and collaboration agreed with Thales on technology, manufacturing, product development and sales activities positions us well to propel Micro-X’s value creation quickly,” Rowland said.

Thales and Micro-X will collaborate on the global sales and support of Micro-X’s counter-terrorism Mobile Backscatter Imager of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Design and development are already underway in Adelaide for the Imager following positive feedback from US and Australian defence forces after a demonstration conducted at the Australian Defence Force’s Counter-IED Task Force.

For the counter-terrorism product, Micro-X will offer direct sales to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Thales will sell the management buy-in product – manufactured in Adelaide – internationally.

Another product that will be developed further is an airport checkpoint security scanner. After working with the UK Government’s Department for Transport, Micro-X produced dual backscatter and transmission x-ray imaging technology that combines traditional and sophisticated X-ray imaging to provide a clear image of scanned luggage. Thales will use the X-ray scanning technology under license. Micro-X recently unveiled a prototype of the luggage X-ray imaging system at the ‘Future Airport Security Solutions’ (FASS) industry showcase in London.

Micro-X and Thales will also design and manufacture a new range of ultra-miniature X-ray tubes. These tubes combine Micro-X’s experience in carbon nanotube x-ray sources with Thales’experience in X-ray devices. The tubes will be designed by Thales in South Australia and manufactured in France.

“From airport checkpoints to counter terrorism activities to future medical imaging devices, Thales and Micro-X are on the edge of a historically decisive moment,” said Jean-Jacques Guittard, Vice-President of Microwave and Imaging Sub-Systems at Thales. “In addition to these high-tech synergies, and as a major player in the digital domain, this partnership will give us a technological leap no-one else can offer.”

Raytheon to develop NASAMS in Adelaide

Raytheon will build its first Australian production facility in Adelaide to enable the system delivery and final assembly of the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System. The announcement follows Raytheon Australia and Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace’s NASAMS being selected for the Government’s $2.5bn Short Range Ground-Based Air Defence program known as LAND19 Phase 7B. The new Raytheon Australia Centre for Joint Integration will be built in the defence industry precinct of Mawson Lakes in Adelaide with a $50m investment from Raytheon and support from the South Australian State Government.

Australia will become the tenth country to use the short-to-medium range air defence system, which has been integrated into the US National Capital Region’s air defence system since 2005 and has also been adopted by Norway, Finland, Spain, The Netherlands, Oman, Lithuania and Indonesia. NASAMS is comprised of the Raytheon Sentinel radar, the Kongsberg Fire Distribution Centre, and the Raytheon Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile. It will replace the Australian Army’s ageing RBS-70 man-portable air defence system.

The Australian-designed and built Thales Hawkei will be used as the NASAMS launch vehicle. NASAMS will also use advanced radar designed and manufactured by Australian-based CEA Technologies.

“NASAMS and Raytheon’s unique EO/IR passive sensor gives Australia one of the most advanced short-range ground-based defence systems in the world,” said Michael Ward, Managing Director of Raytheon Australia.

Mawson Lakes, in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, is one of Australia’s premier defence tech precincts and is also home to BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Saab Australia. Adelaide is also home to the Air Warfare Destroyer project and the Future Submarines project, which promises to deliver 12 Attack Class submarines to the Australian Navy to replace its Collins Class fleet.

The new Raytheon Australia Centre for Joint Integration in Mawson Lakes is 20km east of the AWD Techport in Osborne and 15km south of the Edinburgh RAAF base where Raytheon already has a presence. South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the NASAMS project would create high-tech jobs and supply chain and export opportunities for the state’s defence industry.

“This significant facility strengthens South Australia’s position as a key strategic hub for Raytheon Australia, one of the largest defence companies in the Australian market,” he said. “It will accelerate growth in the defence sector and supports future Raytheon programs across maritime, aerospace, cyber and systems integration.”