The CSIRO Space Optics team are designing and building customised hyperspectral imagers for Earth observation. These payloads include bespoke electronics, optics, and software packages tailor made for their specific remote sensing applications. Drawing together expertise from across the organisation, the team aim to uplift Australian manufacturing capabilities for space and aerial platforms by delivering end-user driven Earth observation tools.

The team are currently focussed on developing tools for water quality monitoring and management, including hyperspectral sensors for airborne and satellite sensing, low power computing systems and on-board data processing.  

Regular cameras display three wavelengths per pixel. Hyperspectral imagers can detect hundreds of wavelengths per pixel which means we can use them to detect much finer details. For example, a standard camera can differentiate between vegetation and water – green and blue – while a hyperspectral imager can differentiate between different shades of blue. It’s this fine detail that enables scientists to detect things like cyanobacteria and other water quality characteristics.

One of the challenges of hyperspectral imaging is the volume of data generated – gigabytes every minute. There are limitations in downloading data from space which means we need to find ways to manage these large data sets onboard the spacecraft. The team are developing on-board computing systems and algorithms to store, pre-process, and prioritise the data before transmitting back to Earth.

In designing tools for measuring water quality, the team not only bring their engineering and manufacturing expertise but collaborate closely with colleagues from the Earth observation research community. The tools under development are designed to meet the specific needs of the end-users.

The team also collaborate closely with Australian partners in the manufacturing and space sectors.

Key engineering and manufacturing capabilities:
• Optical system design and manufacture
• Rapid prototype development methodology
• Optical instrument calibration and validation
• Novel spectrometer designs with tailorable spectral performance
• Modular electronics and software implementation.

Current projects:

  • CyanoSat payload: The team has built a compact spectrometer operating in the visible to near-infrared, designed to detect algal blooms in inland waterbodies from space. After passing pre-launch testing this payload is ready for its first space-flight engineering demonstration in mid-2023.
  • CyanoSat 2.0: The team are starting to develop the next iteration of the CyanoSat payload, taking the lessons learned and skills developed during the development and flight test results from the first CyanoSat payload. The second flight test will aim to test the capability for the imager to detect and monitor algal blooms from low-Earth orbit. Launch opportunities are currently being sought.
  • Wide-angle telescope systems: Developing novel techniques in design and manufacture to increase the field of view of imaging systems which allows for larger areas of the Earth to be measured in a single pass.

The Space Optics team work closely with colleagues from the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) at the University of Adelaide, where the team’s laboratory is located.