6 mins read 05 May 2020

Dr. Sarah Pearce wins NSW Telstra Business Woman of the Year

CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Deputy Director, Dr. Sarah Pearce wins 2020 Telstra NSW Business Women’s Awards.

Dr. Sarah Pearce from CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science. Credit: CSIRO.

CSIRO’s Dr. Sarah Pearce has been recognised for her committed work to the Australian space community and named as one of the winners of the 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

As the Deputy Director of CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science group, Dr. Pearce continues to lead the Australian space community with her involvement in endeavours such as the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project – a science mega-project, planning to build the world’s largest radio telescope in Western Australia, and the science agency’s space research program, which includes the CSIRO Centre for Earth Observation and its share of the NovaSAR-1 satellite facility.

The Telstra Business Women’s Awards are an independent awards program, started 25 years ago, and recognise women across numerous industries who have committed to redefining industry-practices through innovation, opportunity development, and further empowerment.

In addition to being winning the NSW Business Woman of the Year, Dr. Pearce was also was the winner in the NSW ‘Public Sector & Academia’ category. 

“I strongly believe in trying to leave the world a better place, and that my route for this is through science and technology,” said Dr. Pearce upon receipt of the award.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall congratulated Dr. Pearce on this recognition of her contribution to CSIRO, the development of the international Square Kilometre Array project and the emerging Australian space sector.

“I made a personal recommendation for Sarah. Sarah is an expert in her field, but she also has incredible leadership abilities. She builds trust with her stakeholders and is highly respected by the people she works with for her integrity, her dedication and her drive to bring success to those around her.

“Sarah is a great example of the calibre of people I have the pleasure of working with at CSIRO, who are among the best in the world. Not only are they world-class scientists, but they come to work every day to solve the toughest challenges facing Australia, to turn our science into solutions that make life better for everyone.

Australian Space Industry Projects

Dr. Pearce has been working on some big space community projects – such as the SKA, the NovaSAR-1 projects, and building Australia’s first space-based National Facility.

“On the space side, we’re looking forward to supporting the Space Agency as their Moon to Mars program gets underway. Also, we’ll be starting our first space-based National Facility. CSIRO runs national facilities in other areas, including our telescopes and research vessel,” said Dr. Pearce.

SKA Project

Artist impression of the SKA telescope antenna stations once it’s been built at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in outback Western Australia. Credit: SKA Organisation.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a mega-science project being developed by 11 collaborative countries and features thousands of telescopes based in the remote central outback of Western Australia, and across the Indian Ocean in South Africa.

This will be an exciting year for CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. Our new ASKAP telescope is starting its surveys of the sky, looking for up to 70 million new galaxies. And we’re working towards construction for the Square Kilometre Array, Australia’s first ‘mega-science’ project,”

“The SKA is a collaboration between several countries to build the next generation of radio telescopes in Australia and South Africa: after more than a decade of planning, we hope to start construction in WA next year.” Said Dr. Pearce.

The Australian SKA telescope, called SKA-Low, will be made up of thousands of small antennas all spread out over a large distance from each other, but when switched on – it will all work as a single unit. By separating the antennas, the telescope will have a very high resolution, as it surveys the sky 10,000 times faster than any previous telescope.

During operations, the telescopes enormous collecting power across a large range of frequencies will produce enough data to fill up 27 million laptops on a daily basis, as it delves into some of science’s most fundamental questions like testing Einstein’s General Relativity, searching for extraterrestrial techno-signatures and broaden our understanding of the very moments after the Universe came to be in the big bang.

Construction of the SKA telescope is due to begin in 2021 at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia. The video above, provided by the CSIRO, highlights the current instruments on-site, in addition to what the future SKA telescope will look like.

Construction is expected to run through until 2027 when the telescope’s great eye will see its first light.

(video content credit: CSIRO)

NovaSAR-1 project

Artist illustration of the NovaSAR-1 satellite in orbit. Credit: SSTL.

The other big CSIRO project that Dr. Pearce is leading is the Nova-SAR1 satellite project – which provides the opportunity for Australian researchers to use synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology for Earth Observation. SAR technology is able to peer through clouds and can even observe during conditions of low-light, like during the night.

Australia has a seven-year agreement, worth $10.45M that allows the CSIRO direct access and ability to collect whatever type of data it wishes, from the NovaSar-1 satellite, which has been developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in the UK.

Earth observations, and in particular with SAR technology are very useful for scientists – who can use the data to monitor changing rapidly changing scenarios during natural disasters, utilise the most up-to-date data on agriculture observations like water flow and the impacts from droughts, as well as keeping an eye on coastal habitats and deforestation levels.

“Earth Observation is critical to Australia, whether monitoring water, detecting bushfires, or observing crops. We have some really innovative companies working in these areas, both dealing with data from EO satellites and building hardware. As an example, CSIRO is working with Inovor, a South Australian start-up, on our first CubeSat to be launched next year. Inovor are building the bus for us, and we’re developing the sensor and on-board processing,” said Dr. Pearce.

The CSIRO has previously purchased a 10% of the satellite’s observing time, providing local researchers and scientists access to the data sets directly, rather than having to rely on overseas providers of this through a range of foreign satellites.

Learn more about the NovaSAR-1 satellite here.

Both the SKA and NovaSar-1 project are ongoing examples of how Australia is playing a vital role in the global space community – and how people like Dr. Pearce are leading this charge for our local industries.

The team congratulates Dr. Sarah Pearce and other winners of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. Nominations for the 2021 awards are now open and can be completed on the below link.

Nominate the 2021 Telstra Business Women of the Year