Profile: Marco Petasecca, building space capability

September 13, 2021

Associate Professor Marco Petasecca is securing Australia’s space-faring future by establishing local testing facilities to certify Australian electronic components for space.

Image: Associate Professor Marco Petasecca, National Space Qualification Network at the University of Wollongong.

Exposed to extreme temperatures and spacecraft vibration, space-bound electronics must also withstand collisions with high-energy particles from solar winds and cosmic rays. This can cause catastrophic radiation damage known as a Single Event Effect (SEE).

Petasecca is the lead for the new National Space Qualification Network (NSQN) at the University of Wollongong (UOW). There, his team will design a laser-based facility to test components’ ability to endure SEE, as part of a six-partner consortium from Australian universities and industry establishing the first sovereign facilities to test and certify space-bound electronics.

“You can approximate the result you get from particles using very intense light,” says Petasecca. This is much cheaper and simpler than using a particle accelerator.

Petasecca pioneered this concept in Italy where he founded a startup currently running testing projects for the European Space Agency. He joined UOW as he was more interested in physics than design, and became a theme leader for UOW’s Centre for Medical Radiation Physics. He also enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at UOW to familiarise himself with Australia’s teaching environment. 

This degree also provided a deep comprehension of modern theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, which will help him understand the processes at play when designing the NQSN facility. Until now, electronic components for space have been tested overseas, however Petasecca stresses the importance of onshore testing facilities for military and space electronics.

“It’s very expensive and needs a level of security that you may not want to give to another country,” he says.

Written by Nadine Cranenburgh

Marco’s career path:

  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering), University of Perugia, Italy
  • Founder, MAPRad, Italy
  • PhD (Radiation Detection), University of Perugia, Italy
  • Bachelor of Science (Hons), Physics, University of Wollongong, Australia
  • NQSN Project Lead, University of Wollongong, Australia

First published in Australian University Science, issue 6

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