Australian space industry start-up Fleet blasts off with $5m initial funding

THE LIST of investors in Australian space industry start-up Fleet would seem to ensure its blast-off – they include Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures and Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, Earth Space Robotics and Horizon Partners in Silicon Valley.

Fleet completed a $5 million Series A funding round to launch a constellation of nano-satellites that aim to connect the world’s 75 billion devices due to come online by 2025. Fleet is developing nano-satellite technology in partnership with some of the world’s leading aerospace engineers, and will launch the first of more than 100 planned satellites next year. 

Once launched, the satellites will create a global network that will be free to use by sensors and devices worldwide. 

Fleet was founded in Adelaide in 2015 and was initially backed by matched seed funding from the South Australian Government. The size of Fleet’s nano-satellites means they can be produced at a fraction of the cost of traditional satellites.

The Series A funds will be used to help build the business’ first nanosatellites and continue global expansion. 
“There is so much talk globally about the potential of connected devices, but little action being taken to make this chatter a reality,” Fleet CEO and co-founder, Flavia Tata Nardini said.

“We’re designing a technology infrastructure that will underpin the new industrial revolution. It will connect all corners of the globe to create a digital nervous system of devices.

“We chose to launch in Australia as our nation is home to many of the industries that need this type of technology the most. Farmers, environmentalists, mining and oil engineers, and logistics professionals will all greatly benefit from the data and opportunities a switched-on planet produces.  

“Our goal is for industries to use this technology to make real, tangible efficiency improvements to the ways they operate and address issues; be it measuring the effect of climate change on outer corners the great barrier reef, or tracking important cargo like aid as it journeys across the Indian Ocean. This investment brings a global network of connectivity one step closer to reality,” Ms Nardini said. 

Fleet has attracted some of the world’s top investors thanks to its proven expertise in designing, building and launching nano-satellites, as well as a tangible path to launch. Cornerstone investors include Earth Space Robotics and Horizon Partners. 

Investor Mike Cannon-Brookes said, “They’re rare, but every so often an idea cross your path that really gets the adrenaline pumping. Fleet answers one of modern society’s most difficult but important questions: how do we bring all the devices and technology we’ve created together to work as one?

“Once live, Fleet will solve an innumerable amount of the world’s problems as it enables the potential of technology to be turned on. Fleet is a prime example of Australian-led innovation at its best, and I can’t wait to help it influence the global economy for the better.”

Ms Nardini said the fact that Australia was considered the 19th most innovative nation in the world wasn’t good enough. 

“The Australian Government has set out policies to foster innovation, but space isn’t part of that conversation — Australia is one of the largest economies in the world to not have its own space agency,” she said.

“ Projects like this are crucial to our future as they test our creativity and ability to think big. If we’re not always asking what’s next, we’ll never really have a place in the innovation game.”

James Schultz, founder and director of Earth Space Robotics, and co-founder and CEO of GreenCollar, said, “Fleet’s technology has the potential to completely change industries in the environment and natural resource sector.

“Fleet’s constellation of nano-satellites connecting thousands of sensors on Earth will drastically increase business efficiencies. Importantly, it will improve our ability to measure environmental change, and proactively steer the course towards better outcomes.

“Fleet is the global connectivity solution the world desperately needs as we set ambitious targets to improve sustainability issues and reduce greenhouse gases.”

Blackbird co-founder and managing director, Niki Scevak, will join the Fleet board.

“We invest in Aussie start-ups with big ideas who want to be the best in the world,” Mr Scevak said. “The team at Fleet have the credentials and strategy to make their dream a reality. Space was traditionally the province of governments but now start-ups can solve our largest problems through satellites and rockets because it’s so cheap and accessible.” 

Fleet was founded in 2015 by Flavia Tata Nardini, a space engineer with the European Space Agency and Dutch research institute TNO; Dr Matthew Tetlow, an aerospace engineer at the Space Systems Institute and Tigerfish Aviation; and serial entrepreneur Matt Pearson. The business is based in Adelaide



‘Taxonomic’ research into plants and animals gets $2m boost

THE AUSTRALIAN Government is investing $2.12 million for specialist scientists to investigate Australia’s unique array of plants and animals through taxonomic research.

The Australian Biological Resources Study’s National Taxonomy Research Grant Programme is a competitive, merit-based process led by an External Expert Assessment Panel of seven taxonomy experts. Taxonomy – the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms to include all plants, animals and microorganisms – will help fill large gaps in current knowledge and possibly open up new innovation across a braod spectrum.

A spokesperson for Parks Australia, the body which administers the National Taxonomy Research Grant Programme, said research in taxonomy was vital for biodiversity conservation, particularly within Australia’s Commonwealth reserve estate. 

“The discovery and documentation of Australia’s biodiversity can have many applications including: the recovery and management of threatened species; identifying and understanding the risks of pest species or vectors of pathogens to people, plants and animals; and the potential for discovery of novel new biological resources with medicinal or other properties,” the spokesperson said.

“Taxonomy is an important and often overlooked branch of science.

“Taxonomists’ work to describe and classify plants and animals which supports many areas of biology, ecology and conservation science.”

This year the panel assessed 83 applications and selected 19 projects to receive funding over the next three years.

“These 19 research projects will help us fill gaps in our current knowledge and understanding of Australia’s unique and incredibly rich biodiversity and will support the study of a wide variety of Australian species including millipedes, frogs, and everlasting daisies,” the spokesperson said.

“In previous years this funding has enabled researchers to discover and describe thousands of new species including algae, insects, plants and reptiles.”



Four new industry CRCs receive $151.5m from Canberra

FOUR challenges to Australian industry sectors are being met by new Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs), backed by more than $151.5 million in Federal Government funding, in a bid to find innovative solutions.

The CRCs are being set up to find practical solutions to problems such as farm soil performance, honey bee product development, digital technology to boost farming practices and next generation vehicle control systems – then produce tangible outcomes.

The iMove CRC will receive $55 million over 10 years to explore ‘digital and evolving vehicle technologies’ to help traffic to flow more smoothly. 

“The goal is to reduce traffic congestion, lower fuel use and emissions and, as a result, drive improved national productivity and competitiveness,” Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos said.

A new CRC for High Performance Soils will receive almost $40 million over 10 years to help farmers bridge the gap between soil science and farm management.

“This will give them the tools and knowledge they need to make decisions on complex soil management issues,” Senator Sinodinos said.

A new CRC for Honey Bee Products will receive $7 million over five years in a program to help link unique floral hive sites to product quality control processes. The aim of the CRC’s programs will be to create “a healthy product image for national and international markets”.

The new Food Agility CRC is aiming to  help Australia’s food industry grow its comparative advantage through digital transformation. The CRC will receive $50 million from the
Federal Government over 10 years.

“I’m delighted that the new CRCs selected in this 18th funding round will involve interdisciplinary researchers working with industry to explore new processes, including digital technologies, to deliver improvements in strategic industry sectors,” Senator Sinodinos said..

He said the CRC program was a competitive, merit based grant program to support “industry-led and outcome-focused collaborative research partnerships between industry, researchers and the community”.

“Since the programme’s inception, the Australian Government has invested more than $4.2 billion in innovation and research that is aimed at finding practical solutions for Australian industry, whether it is new products, processes or services,” he said.



Next-gen sensors ‘supercharged’ by UQ research

QUANTUM mechanics researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) and Britain’s University of Sussex have found a way to ‘supercharge’ the sensitivity of measuring sensors utilised in fields as diverse as mineral exploration and climate change.

Theoretical physicist Stuart Szigeti, of UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics, said future precision sensing technology would exploit unusual effects of quantum mechanics.

“Our research showed a way to recycle atoms and reuse them in a device called an atom interferometer,” Dr Szigeti said. “This technique will vastly improve the performance of these devices, leading to improved sensing technology. 

“An atom interferometer uses the quantum ‘wave-like’ nature of atoms in order to make very precise measurements of accelerations, rotations, and gravitational fields.”

Dr Szigeti, who works within one of five nodes of the Australian Research Council Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems, said the devices would have applications on land and sea.

“They can be used in mineral exploration, allowing us to more easily locate mineral reserves underground, and in hydrology, allowing us to track the movement of water across the planet as we monitor the effects of climate change,” Dr Szigeti said.
“They’ll also be important in navigation.”
Simon Haine, from the University of Sussex, said the development of precise atom interferometers had been hampered by an effect known as quantum noise, which was uncertainty in a quantum system signal.
“Quantum noise can be combatted with a property of quantum mechanics known as ‘entanglement’,” Dr Haine said.
“Proof-of-principle experiments have recently shown how to generate entanglement within atom interferometers, and have used this to alleviate the effects of quantum noise. However, this comes at a cost, as in the process of creating entanglement, most of the atoms are wasted, which hinders the performance of these devices.
“Our project has found a way to harvest and recycle these atoms to improve the sensitivity of ultra-precise measurement devices.”
The research, involving Dr Szigeti, Dr Haine and colleague Dr Robert Lewis-Swan from UQ, has been published in Physical Review Letters.