Gaming future faces Aussie space industry

Any funding cuts brought about by a change in government this weekend could potentially see one Aussie space software company turn to the video game industry as a way to make money.

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Dr Jason Held (Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)

At the 2010 Tech23 technology innovation conference in Sydney yesterday, Saber Astronautics Australia director Dr Jason Held said that should funding for the Australian Space Research Program be cut under a new government, then the company may simply turn to making video games.

"The partnerships we have with video game developers would mean we could develop this commercially," he said.

His company has developed a software program combining artificial intelligence with a 3D graphical user interface designed to assist ground controllers by analysing telemetry data streaming to and from a satellite network and using that information to predict spacecraft behaviour.

The software is able to streamline the control of a satellite and reduce operator overhead, cutting costs and reducing the risks of operating the craft.

The company worked with video game developers in Australia in order to produce the 3D simulation environment for the software, allowing the system to easily be modified to work as a video game.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US wants to use the ground station software to control a satellite intended to launch in 2013, according to Held.

Held said that the project was a great opportunity to use Australian knowledge in a high-profile global project, and if it doesn't go ahead, the Australian space industry will suffer.

"For Australia, this is a critical project at a critical point in time in the industry. While Australia is considered internationally to be 'prime real-estate' for satellite controllers, we get little funding or technological benefit from the US and European companies that use our soil. So the opportunity to develop a technological leap in satellite control software from Australia, on such an important and high-profile project ... means that Australia can not only become global competitors in this $187 billion market, but we can actually lead the R&D and produce a vibrant space export market in a single blow."

Held said he had the end of the year to find funding. If he doesn't, MIT will be forced by its deadlines to look elsewhere, likely settling on more conventional ground station technology from the US.

He said that his company would still get jobs from elsewhere in the space market, but if no funding was found for projects in this area within a short window of time, the Australian space industry would miss out on a "once-in-a-decade" chance to be a part of the satellite control market.

The initiative is seeking to secure funding from the $40 million Australian Space Research fund. The fund was started in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and provides $40 million in funding over a four-year period to successful applicants in the areas of space research, education and innovation.

Although the Coalition has made promises to reduce spending, there was no mention of any potential funding cut to the program in the Coalition's Industry, Innovation and Science policy released yesterday.

Via ZDNet.com.au

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