Science and technology
Science and innovation
Funding information and opportunities
Regional Research Institutes Initiative
Xerra Earth Observation Institute
Establish a Centre for Space Science Technology
Regional Research Institutes Initiative
- RRI background
- Xerra Earth Observation Institute
- Bragato Research Institute
- New Zealand Institute for Minerals to Materials Research
- PlantTech Research Institute
- RRI Performance Framework
Establish a Centre for Space Science Technology
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MBIE funding details
In 2015, Xerra Earth Observation Institute received $14.7 million (excl GST) to drive innovation and growth in New Zealand by enabling access to, and exploiting, earth observation data over a 6.5 year period from January 2017 to June 2023.
About the research
Xerra Earth Observation Institute have been contracted to drive innovation and growth in New Zealand by enabling access to establish and build a research institute with a focus on earth observation data. Below is the public statement from our contract with Xerra Earth Observation Institute.
Read the public statement
CSST will drive regional economic growth by enabling access to existing and new satellite data. In collaboration with allied industries, CSST will develop products and solutions that incorporate satellite data and/or data transmission services, which are tailored to meet the needs of New Zealand’s regional industries. CSST will act as an enabler for existing organisations by developing, through a comprehensive and collaborative programme of research and development, new intellectual property that will provide direct benefits to regional industries in the form of improved products and/or services that they deliver to their clients. The research will draw on the capabilities of existing research organisations while growing in-house capability in CSST.
To the extent that its financial viability allows, CSST will provide open access to data and will operate at a profit margin geared to promote reinvestment in research and development and growth at levels appropriate to the needs of New Zealand regional industries. CSST will create economies of scale and collaborative activities by providing a central point of access for free and commercial satellite data with a focus on data sets of relevance to New Zealand. To (i) lower the barriers to accessing and exploiting satellite data, (ii) develop and deliver products and services that capitalise on the availability of satellite data, (iii) deliver satellite data specific to New Zealand, and (iv) transmit data via satellites to increase data availability, CSST will (i) establish an international satellite data exchange, (ii) enable the collaborative development of a data products pyramid and associated services, and (iii) design, develop, launch and operate CubeSats to provide imagery dedicated to New Zealand’s needs and data transmission for New Zealand users.
CSST will operate in a way that is beneficial to regional industries, in New Zealand’s best interests, non-competitive, enabling, non-partisan, regionally impartial, operationally and fiscally prudent, financially responsible, commercially viable, research-focussed, technically excellent, inclusive, and judiciously governed.
Recipients of RRI funding are required to report yearly on the progress of their work programme. Below is the public update from Xerra Earth Observation Institute's annual report.
Read the public update from the 2021/22 annual report
Xerra Earth Observation Institute is a remote sensing and data analytics company offering science-based products and services that help improve productivity and speed the pace of innovation in government and industry. Our regional research institute work programme focuses on turning Earth observation (EO) and remote sensing data and research into applications that help our customers be good stewards of the environment entrusted to us all.
Over the past financial year, we have continued to focus on developing science-based, commercially viable products and services that combine multiple layers of satellite data, scientific models, and machine learning. These products and services provide transformative insights to industries, businesses and governments in Aotearoa, Australia and Asia-Pacific. Our flagship product is Starboard® Maritime Intelligence (Starboard(external link)).
Our approach to research and development is to build quickly, gather customer feedback early, and iterate continuously on features that uniquely solve customer problems. This approach led to the successful commercial launch of Starboard in April 2021 and to its ongoing impact since that time.
During the 2021-22 financial year Xerra published four peer-reviewed SJR Q1* publications, alongside co-authors from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, among others. A previous Q1 publication was awarded ‘Top cited article’ status in 2022. Additionally, three technical reports were delivered during the year, concluding work funded in the 2020-21 financial year.
Xerra has continued to deliver on two existing Endeavour Fund projects: Matariki — Quantifying environmental resources through high-resolution, automated, satellite mapping of landscape change, and Forest Flows — creating water-resilient landscapes, with a third project, Eye on Lakes, finishing in March 2022. In addition, Xerra commenced a new research project with the University of Waikato, relating to an ecosystem modelling platform to assist New Zealand lake management.
*The highest Scimago Journal Ranking
Science Impact continues to be delivered through the Starboard platform and Xerra’s contracted research projects. As Leader/Key Researcher in the Matariki Smart Ideas research project, Xerra continues to use satellite data to detect changes in land subsidence and snowpack in the Southern Alps in collaboration with the University of Otago, GNS Science, Meridian Energy and LINZ. Matariki aims to support intelligent hydro-generation management in a changing climate, and future-proof national investment in 3D mapping through the Provincial Growth Fund.
As Key Personnel in the Forest Flows Endeavour research programme, Xerra is helping create a biophysical model of forest hydrology to understand catchment-scale water storage and release. This will ensure that the new forests planted through the One Billion Trees programme are strategically situated where they can enhance water resources into the future. During the 2021-22 financial year significant progress was made validating satellite data against data collected at the ground and canopy levels in planted forests. This work will allow the team to take learnings from individual forests to make predictions about forest hydrology across New Zealand.
The Eye on Lakes Smart Ideas research project that Xerra was a Key Researcher in concluded in early 2022. This project delivered a comprehensive and accurate dataset of cyanobacteria prevalence — a toxic and invasive algae — in freshwater lakes across New Zealand, and developed tools to harmonise satellite and in situ measurements to allow more frequent national assessment of the impacts of water quality reform and management.
Capability development (investing in people)
Over the past financial year, our team of in-house remote sensing and data scientists has grown to eight, consisting of experts in remote sensing, satellite data analytics, data fusion and machine learning. This capability is supported by a talented team of software engineers, designers, and sales and marketing experts focusing on the development and commercialisation of Starboard.
In late 2021 we worked with the Summer of Tech to offer three internships in data science and front-end engineering, two of which were supported through Callaghan Innovation Summer Experience grants. The data science intern and one of the engineers have since joined the Xerra team in a full-time capacity, while the second engineer continues their studies at the University of Auckland and works for Xerra in a part-time role.
It remains Xerra’s intent to engage with relevant Māori groups and foster long-term relationships. As key stakeholders in environmental sustainability, and custodians of important indigenous knowledge, Xerra recognises that Māori can both benefit from, and partner in, our endeavours to build a better New Zealand.
After several years of relationship building with the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, Xerra led a Smart Ideas proposal which embedded a Māori partner specialising in marrying western science and mātauranga Māori for freshwater fisheries. Unfortunately this did not pass the science excellence stage. We are reviewing this research project and will re-engage with relevant iwi and hapu when a new opportunity for collaboration is identified.
Although the work we have done to date to engage with Māori has not yielded the successes we were hoping for, we have also supported other opportunities as they have arisen. For example, we helped design an interactive experience based on Starboard technology for Tūhura Tuarangi - Discover Space, a mobile exhibition funded by MBIE that will tour through hard-to-reach communities to inspire students towards careers in the space industry and highlight the important role that mātauranga Māori have had in the understanding and discovery of space.
The Xerra Board of Directors continue to meet on a regular basis, and remain committed to strategic governance and oversight of Xerra. Maria King, one of Xerra’s existing Directors, stepped into the Board Chair role in November 2021, following the resignation of the inaugural Board Chair, Stephen Davies Howard.
The Space Science Technology Trust continues its responsibilities as majority shareholder, in the appointment of Directors. The Trust has also been engaged in discussions about the future direction of Xerra and Starboard, and its contribution to the ongoing benefit of New Zealand.
Xerra was pleased to welcome Trent Fulcher as the new Chief Executive in July 2022. Trent is replacing Steve Cotter who was Xerra’s founding CEO and who stepped down earlier in 2022 to support his family. Trent joins the team with leadership experience both as a CEO who has grown high performing teams, and as a successful entrepreneur.
Xerra has seen year-on-year growth in revenue, over and above the RRI investment funding. While the path towards financial sustainability within the contestable funding realm remains challenging, we have still seen an increase in our contestable research funding, which is encouraging. As Xerra works towards a position of financial self-sustainability, we are also seeing positive growth in revenue through our Starboard product. Starboard’s commercial sales through subscription customers, one-off digital operations, and consultancy sales is steadily increasing.
For more information on Xerra, please visit our websites www.xerra.nz(external link) and www.starboard.nz(external link)
Read the public update from the 2020/21 annual report
Xerra Earth Observation Institute Ltd (Xerra) was set up as a regional research institute in July 2017. As a remote sensing and data analytics company, Xerra is helping improve productivity and speed the pace of innovation in government and industry by turning scientific excellence into impactful, valuable products and services. From the beginning, our goal has been to become financially independent. Our work programmes are designed to generate revenue through a combination of contestable research funding and commercial sales. Xerra’s early focus was on building our in-house research capability by hiring internationally recognised remote sensing scientists from across New Zealand and abroad. Since then, we have focused on developing science-based, commercially viable products and services that combine multiple layers of satellite data, scientific models, and machine learning.
In 2020-21 Xerra contributed to two published papers alongside co-authors from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, among others. Additionally, Xerra was a named contributor to The Future of Commercial Fishing in Aotearoa New Zealand, a report from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Kaitohutohu Mātanga Pūtaiao Matua ki te Pirimia. A paper Xerra co-authored in early 2020, ECOSTRESS: NASA's next generation mission to measure evapotranspiration from the International Space Station, was among the American Geophysical Union journal’s top 10% most downloaded in 2020. Another paper, Analysis of spatiotemporal variability in satellite-derived chlorophyll α to aid the selection of representative sites for lake water quality monitoring, has been submitted to the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Xerra continued its involvement in three Endeavour Fund projects: Matariki—Quantifying environmental resources through high-resolution, automated, satellite mapping of landscape change, Eye on Lakes, and Forest Flows—creating water-resilient landscapes. Adding to this, Xerra signed a three-year contract with the TAIAO project (Time-Evolving Data Science /Artificial Intelligence for Advanced Open Environmental Science), led by the University of Waikato. Dr Lehmann will use his expertise in remote sensing to develop tools to classify lake ecosystem health from the visible light bands on satellite imagery. He was also asked to contribute to the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, the SfTI Biosecurity Tech Mission, and the CSIRO - AquaWatch Australia International Science Advisory Team.
Most of this year’s R&D efforts went towards our Starboard Maritime Intelligence product, culminating in its commercial release in April following beta trials. Starboard delivers a marked improvement in analysts’ ability to monitor oceans for illegal fishing activity, marine reserve incursions, biosecurity threats and anomalous behaviours as possible indicators of drug/illicit goods smuggling and human trafficking. Soon after Starboard’s release, Xerra signed the Ministry for Primary Industries to a three-year contract. Additionally, users trialling the product at numerous NZ government agencies, regional fisheries management organisations, non-governmental organisations and beyond have commented on its value. Therefore, we expect others to follow MPI’s lead and purchase subscriptions in the coming months. Our analysis for the Defence Technology Agency of detections in the high-latitudes and high sea-states using data from the Southern Ocean voyage of RV TANGAROA will assist the RNZN in understanding the challenges of operating in the Southern Ocean and conducting Search and Rescue operations. As Leader/Key Researcher in the Matariki project, Xerra is using satellite data to detect changes in land subsidence and snowpack in the Southern Alps in collaboration with the University of Otago, GNS Science, Meridian Energy and LINZ. Matariki aims to support intelligent hydrogeneration management in a changing climate1, and future-proof national investment in 3D mapping through the Provincial Growth Fund. This early work has already had broader impacts. A commercial firm contracted the University of Otago via the Matariki project to generate 3D change products for the West Coast. Moreover, a successful Deep South National Science Challenge proposal will build off Matariki to make projections about how runoff from New Zealand’s glaciers and seasonal snow will change into the future. As Key Personnel in the Forest Flows programme, Xerra is helping create a biophysical model of forest hydrology to understand catchment-scale water storage and release. This will ensure that the new forests planted through the One Billion Trees programme are strategically situated where they can enhance water resources into the future. Xerra also completed Envirolink grants to enable technology transfer of satellite-derived lake water quality monitoring tools for regional councils, as well as the production of a collaborative satellite data workspace and tools for regional councils.
Our team of six in-house scientists consists of experts in remote sensing, satellite data analytics, data fusion and machine learning. Supporting them is a cross-functional business team with a proven track record, giving us confidence in our ability to transform high-quality research into products and services demanded by domestic and international markets. This year we entered into four science collaborations with the University of Waikato, Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge, GNS Science and CSIRO. Xerra also signed 12 collaboration agreements, NDAs and/or MoUs with other organisations and entered into commercial agreements with 17 businesses, government agencies, and regional/local governments. Dr Lehmann has been seconded to the University of Waikato as a Senior Research Fellow, and Dr Kelbe has been based at the University of Otago as an external staff member. We have also integrated international research, with one visiting scholar from Shihezi University in China supporting Dr Lehmann’s hyperspectral imaging project. Our contributions to the NASA ECOSTRESS mission have continued, leading to increasing international awareness of Aotearoa’s uniquely instrumented landscape, with in situ observations covering a diverse range of ecological zones. Our invitation to join NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission will advance observations of global ocean colour, biogeochemistry, and ecology. In the coming year we will use New Zealand’s spectrally diverse lakes as a case study to harmonise in situ observations of phytoplankton with satellite-based hyperspectral reflectance measurements to understand the drivers of harmful algal blooms. These efforts support MBIE’s vision for Aotearoa as a destination for scientists and investment, and complement the NZ Space Agency’s desire for Aotearoa to be a participant in international space missions.
In an effort to further integrate Vision Mātauranga into our work programme, Xerra engaged the Callaghan Innovation Māori economy team to help build our understanding of Vision Mātauranga and improve our Māori engagement plans. The Callaghan representative is helping us establish relationships as Mana Whenua with three different iwi groups, given our geographic spread. Xerra proposed a project to monitor the water quality of Canterbury lakes and developed a joint application with Mahaanui Kurataiao. Mahaanui Kurataiao presented the project idea to Wairewa Runanga, but Runanga hui decided not to go forward with the proposal submission. Dr Lehmann has been engaging with local iwi on water quality and biosecurity. He presented his research on the Rotorua lakes at He Huihuianga Roto Moana of the Te Arawa Lakes Trust. He also attended a Powhiri at Matahuru Marae near Lake Waikare with the TAIAO team. As the Matahuru whanau are mostly interested in improving freshwater health, the student project Dr Lehmann co-supervises was chosen as the pilot project to establish a working relationship. It remains our intent to engage with relevant Māori groups and foster long-term relationships. As key stakeholders in environmental sustainability, and custodians of important indigenous knowledge, we recognise that Māori can both benefit from, and partner in, our endeavours to build a better New Zealand.
The Board continued its oversight role, meeting eight times throughout the year with two additional Audit & Risk Committee meetings. The Board also conducted a two-day strategy session and review of CEO performance. A full external audit of 2019-20’s financial results was conducted by Crowe and preliminary results presented at the Annual General Meeting. This was a successful meeting, attended by members of the Board, Space Science Technology Trust, staff, and stakeholders. This was preceded by a joint meeting of the Board and Trust. Xerra’s Strategic Advisory Panel provided advice on research topics and funding priorities to ensure both our research programme and product development remain industry-led. They assessed the data science and research underpinning Starboard, as well as our work plan for the COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund. They also reviewed Xerra's approach to Vision Mātauranga and made helpful recommendations which were subsequently implemented. The Panel judged Xerra’s research to be sound and remarked that Starboard was providing highly accurate, useful information. They commented that Xerra was creating a unique value proposition for New Zealand.
Xerra has made considerable progress towards its commercial objectives. While the RRI grant continues to be our main source of funding, we are steadily reducing our dependence on it. For the second consecutive year, taxable income more than doubled, growing 127% and covering 33% of our operating costs (up from 17% in 2019-20). This income was made up of data sales, grants, product sales, consultancy, contestable research funding, and interest dividends - totalling ~$1.34M. Overall expenditure was ~17% below budget. Xerra achieved the following commercial milestones in 2020-21:
- $850,000 from a commercialisation grant through the CIAF;
- Xerra’s first two international contracts secured;
- Xerra’s first contract to monitor the oceans in support of a multinational operation; and
- Xerra’s first multi-year subscription contract.
Starboard’s sales pipeline is active with more than a dozen organisations trialling it.
Although the path toward self-sustainability remains challenging, this year’s results show that we are heading in the right direction.