Rashmi Karanth has always been fascinated by space. As a child, she would look up to the skies and wonder what lay beyond.
The computer science engineer and business technology expert also has a keen interest in data and analytics. “How you make data consumable and present it as information is something I’m very passionate about,” says Karanth.
Having forged a highly successful career building user-centric digital solutions at companies such as Westpac, Johnson & Johnson and Airbus, Karanth came to realise just how much people depend on satellite technology. She also came to understand how Australia’s size and location gave it unique strengths as a player in the space race.
“If you didn’t have satellites, you wouldn’t have your GPS, you wouldn’t have your phone network and, as a Formula 1 fanatic, I wouldn’t be able to watch all of the F1 races because they’re broadcast around the world,” she says.
“So, I was thinking: how can I make an impact from a data-driven perspective? And the answer was space, because there’s so much you can do by looking at earth from space that you can’t do from [the] ground up.”
In May 2021, Karanth was appointed as Head of Product for Quasar Satellite Technologies, an Australian startup backed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Quasar is focused on providing space data as a service powered by phased array technology to commercial and public sector partners. This involves arranging antenna elements in a way that alters the shape and direction of radio signals without physically moving the antenna.
The company is building the world’s first cryogenically cooled communications solution that enables ground stations – which are typically only capable of tracking one satellite at a time – to communicate with multiple satellites simultaneously without a mechanical steering system. The phased array technology, which will provide ground stations with multibeam capability, will also allow access to data from satellites in low, medium, and geostationary orbit.
Ground station end users can submit requests using Quasar’s satellite tracking and pass booking software suite. The system will then schedule and initiate satellite contact and a data downlink.
Karanth says the solution is also secure by design and supports open standards to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
“Quasar is disrupting satellite communications from the ground. How we are doing that is by making space communication more affordable, accessible, and safer,” she says.
“The legacy ground communication business model of one antenna per mission is no longer fit for purpose. The lack of scalability drives up costs and critical missed satellite passes, creating a communication bottleneck”.
Building the backbone in the cloud
Quasar launched with $12 million in seed funding and already has several industry partners including Clearbox Systems, Fleet Space Technologies, Saber Astronautics and Vocus.
Karanth says the startup will release its first commercial product – the S-band phased array antenna – in mid-2023.
“We are going to have three ground stations in Australia, with the first one to be commissioned in New South Wales,” she says.
“Then we have an ambitious three-year timeline for the X-band phased array antenna, so we’re looking to launch that product in 2025.”
Quasar joined the Microsoft for Space Startups Australia program soon after launching in 2021. The company is building its entire architecture on Microsoft Azure, and it recently leveraged the FastTrack for Azure engineering advisory service to accelerate this process.
Karanth says Microsoft’s edge computing capabilities open a world of possibilities for Quasar in the rapidly expanding market for satellite communications and space domain awareness (SDA) services. According to the Center for Space Standards and Innovation, more than 57,000 new satellites are expected to be launched globally by 2030.
“There are a lot of use cases, such as pre-processing the data on the satellite and then downlinking it using Quasar’s ground station infrastructure,” she explains.
“Another use case that I see is for space domain awareness, which is essentially scanning the sky. There’s a lot of impetus on SDA from a Defence perspective as well, so we are looking to work very closely with Defence organisations on this capability in the future.
“Microsoft is going to be the backbone in our vision to deliver space data as a service.”