Fleet Space Technology has won a $6.4m defence contract with Defence Space Command, and says 3D printing has helped stomp on inflation in components.

Mr Pearson gave an example of a small satellite antenna that was imported from Switzerland for a cost of around $10,000 per unit. The cost of the antenna was reduced to $100 by using 3D printers, and manufacturing in-house.

Although there are still delays with the procurement of semiconductors, which have curtailed some vehicle production in the automobile manufacturing sector, that aspect has improved. “It’s better now than during COVID,” Mr Pearson said.

‘Missing piece’

Low Earth orbit satellites are a practical solution that can be used at low cost. “This is a missing piece of the puzzle for Australian space,” he said.

One aspect that is out of the hands of satellite companies, such as Fleet, is the cost to launch their satellites in space. The advent of private operators such as Elon Musk’s private entity SpaceX had helped, but there was still not enough competition to lower launch costs.

“Launch prices are going up,” Mr Pearson said.

Fleet Space’s mining and exploration business is growing rapidly. It has about 30 companies either using or preparing to use its technology, made up of a nano-satellite system in space connected to ground sensors which “scan” the earth for the most likely spots for lithium and rare earth minerals. The process of exploration is speeded up by a factor 100 compared to the traditional method of drilling prospects.

Confidentiality agreements cover many of those deals, but two companies that have spoken publicly about the use of the Fleet Space technology are United States group Talon Metals, which has an agreement to supply nickel to Elon Musk’s Tesla, and ASX-listed Core Lithium.

Colonel Clifford White of Defence Space Command’s director of space services said that the satellite system is an important part of infrastructure. “Space is operationally critical to the achievement of the Defence mission,” he said.

Defence Space Command, established in January, has members from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Public Service under its specialist control. The military is recognising that space is becoming an increasingly important operational domain.