Tag Archives: Australian space research

space mining

UNSW team exploring mining water on the moon

Image credit: UNSW.
In an announcement on 7 February at the SIAA Space Industry Forum discussing Australia’s role in the Moon Treaty at UNSW, the group outlined steps to put together a multi-university, agency and industry project team to investigate the possibilities of mining on the moon. They also intend to address how that would work under the United Nations’ Moon Treaty. 
 
Professor Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at UNSW, believes that Australia is uniquely placed to carve itself a niche in the global space industry by exploiting its position of strength in mining expertise.  
 
“Australia has a natural advantage for off-Earth mining – we have some of the very best mining research, technology and automation tools in the world, and the largest mining companies,” he said. 
 
“While overseas teams have been looking at solving some of the problems behind space mining, our project wants to examine how we could actually get this done, firstly from a practical engineering point of view, but also closing a viable business case.” 
 
The global space industry is expected to grow to A$1 trillion over the next 20 years and Professor Dempster says Australia needs to engage with the space agenda now to secure its ability to compete in this market in the future. 
 
“What we need to do is reduce the perceived risk to potential investors, including large mining companies, in a space mining venture,” he said. 
 
The major deterrent for industry involvement is a lack of understanding of the economics associated with this type of project and the perceived investment risk profile of mining in space.  
 
Professor Dempster, who is working with UNSW mining expert Professor Serkan Saydam, has a goal of reducing the perceived risk of off-Earth mining and offering credible evidence that mining water from the moon can be commercially viable. The hope is to be able to show that it is possible to create the machinery, mining methods, energy resources and communications required to do it.  To that end, they will only consider those options that are most likely to produce positive investment returns. 
 
The best-known commercial application of extracting lunar water is in making rocket fuel. The components of water are hydrogen and oxygen and these can be used to power rockets.  
 
Making rocket fuel out of the water on the moon could significantly cut down on the cost of carrying out space missions. Now, rockets leaving Earth must carry all the fuel they need, which comes at an enormous cost. If rockets could potentially refuel once in space, they could reach distant locations for a lot less money. 
 
Speaking about the project, UNSW Dean of Engineering Mark Hoffman said: “Australia needs to invest in disruptive, innovative technologies to tackle some of our planet’s big challenges and to create new and exciting opportunities for economic growth. 
 
“Projects such as this one will help deepen Australia’s expertise in off-Earth mining and facilitate the growth of the space industry in Australia.” 
 
Professor Dempster said that given sufficient funding, he and his team may be just five to 10 years away from piloting a water mining “proof of concept” operation on the moon.  
 
“Once we prove that the technology exists and major risks can be mitigated, I expect that mining companies will see the commercial potential for this sort of venture and put some dollars towards making it a reality,” he said. 
 
Professor Dempster says that it is likely that we are still decades away from commercial mining operations being established on the moon. 
This article was originally published by UNSW.
space technology future science banner

CSIRO invests $35M in future of space technology and AI

The investment will include the development of space technology such as advanced imaging of Earth from satellites, in addition to cutting-edge data science to support the growth of AI technology.

The investment is part of CSIRO’s Future Science Platforms (FSP) portfolio, aimed at dedicating research to new and emerging opportunities for Australia.

They aim to help reinvent old and create new industries, as well as grow the capability of a new generation of researchers through specially-created student places in these ‘future’ fields.

Space Technology and Artificial Intelligence join eight other areas of future science, including in the fields of health and energy.

By 2022, the CSIRO Future Science Platforms program will have invested $205M since it was launched in 2016.

Space Technology will receive $16M to identify and develop the science to leapfrog traditional technologies and find new areas for Australian industry to work in.

It will initially focus on advanced technologies for Earth observation, and then address challenges such as space object tracking, resource utilisation in space, and developing manufacturing and life support systems for missions to the Moon and Mars.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will receive $19M to target AI-driven solutions for areas including food security and quality, health and wellbeing, sustainable energy and resources, resilient and valuable environments, and Australian and regional security.

The primary research areas include platforms to improve prediction and understanding of complex data; platforms to enable trustworthy inferences and risk-based decisions; and data systems to enable ethical, robust and scalable AI.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the CSIRO Future Science Platforms have an important role to play in inventing and securing Australia’s path to prosperity.

“Our Future Science Platforms aim to turn Australia’s challenges into opportunities where new science can break through seemingly impossible roadblocks to give Australia an unfair advantages on the world stage,” Dr Marshall said.

“Innovation needs deep collaboration, so our FSPs bring together this nation’s world-class expertise across all fields of science, technology, engineering and maths to deliver real solutions to real world problems.”

“CSIRO is here to solve Australia’s greatest challenges through innovative science and technology – and to do that we have to invest in the big thinking and breakthrough research that will keep us ahead of the curve.”

CSIRO’s investment in Space Technology builds on the launch of CSIRO’s Space Roadmap for Australia and supports the newly formed Australian Space Agency’s goal of tripling the size of the domestic space sector to $10-12bn by 2030.

It will also grow CSIRO’s 75 years of work in space, and role as a leading technology provider to the space sector.

CSIRO is uniquely placed to progress the science and application of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

The FSP combines the full depth and breadth of CSIRO’s research across all major Australian industries with deep technology expertise to create cutting-edge solutions while ensuring the ethical challenges are understood and protected.

View a full list of CSIRO’s Future Science Platforms.

Originally published by CSIRO.

Fleet Space SMB CubeSat

Adelaide startup’s Australian first CubeSats launch

The launch lays the foundation for free global connectivity for the industrial Internet of Things (IoT). According to Fleet Space Technologies co-founder and CEO Flavia Tata Nardini, the shoebox-sized Proxima I and II CubeSats are the first to be launched by the Australian private sector. And they lifted off only weeks after Tata Nardini reached out across the Tasman to ask Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck about working together to “untangle the bottleneck of space”.

The Australian and New Zealand Space Agencies, along with regulatory authorities on both sides of the pond, worked with the two startups to clear regulatory and licensing hurdles in record time.

“The speed was unbelievable,” Tata Nardini told create.

And the launch wasn’t the only speedy part of the process. The two Proxima CubeSats were built in six weeks.

“Nanosatellites can be built in weeks, with a little bit of improvement each time,” Tata Nardini explained.

The bulk of the Proxima manufacture took place in San Francisco with Pumpkin Space Systems. The payload — a radio that controls the satellite’s communications — was built by Fleet Space Technologies in Adelaide.

Big rockets, little satellites

The Proxima CubeSats are the first of a constellation of 100 nanosatellites that Fleet Space Technologies plans to launch into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by 2022. Fleet will have two more nanosatellites in orbit during the coming weeks, with Centauri I on board SpaceX’s recently delayed Falcon 9 SSO-A mission scheduled to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Centauri II will be hot on its heels, taking flight from an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) PSLV C43 launch vehicle on 27 November.

Tata Nardini said Centauri I will be among 71 CubeSats aboard the Falcon 9, and the media has reported that up to 30 small satellites will be on the ISRO rocket. The SpaceX and ISRO vehicles are considerably heftier than Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket — which is designed specifically for small payloads such as nanosatellites.

Flavia Tata Nardini of Fleet and Australia's space industry
Fleet Space Technologies CEO Flavia Tata Nardini.

“These are big rockets — it’s fascinating to see them dedicating some of their launches to CubeSats,” Tata Nardini added.

Aussie startup Gilmour Space Technologies is also vying to claim its place in the small launch market, and has recently been named in the New York Times as one of only six companies worldwide with the engineering expertise and funding to give Rocket Lab some healthy competition. According to CEO Adam Gilmour, their hybrid-fuelled rocketsare on track for the first commercial launch from Australian soil by 2020.

The next industrial revolution

Fleet’s mission is to “power the next industrial revolution” in sectors such as farming, mining, shipping and logistics. According to Tata Nardini, Fleet’s satellites will “grab the data” from devices in industry.

Last year, Tata Nardini explained to the Engineers Australia Applied IoT Community that industrial clients who purchased sensors, gateways or terminals containing the Fleet Space Technologies communications chip would have free access to Fleet’s satellite constellation.

Even before their first launch, Fleet started generating revenue by connecting customers using existing satellites operated by companies such as Iridium and Inmarsat.

“We’re selling all over the world, proving our IoT approach and how fast we can go with customers,” Tata Nardini said, adding that her company’s CubeSats will provide extra features and redundancy to connect millions of devices.

The real test is in space

The Proxima and Centauri satellites will be monitored in the months after launch to make sure they are working correctly. The Proxima CubeSats have been granted permission to operate in sought-after L-band frequencies, which are used for GPS as they can pass through clouds and tree cover.

The Proxima CubeSats were the first to be launched by the Australian commercial sector. (Image: Fleet Space Technologies)
The Proxima CubeSats were the first to be launched by the Australian commercial sector. (Image: Fleet Space Technologies)

Fleet is tracking the CubeSats twice a day when they pass over Adelaide. The window is tight — 180 seconds for each transit — but Tata Nardini said that their ground station is capable of meeting the challenge.

Tata Nardini said that the Fleet team had learned a lot through the process of designing and building their four satellites.

“Everything is new at the beginning. The more you do it, the more you own it,” Tata Nardini said.

– Nadine Cranenburgh

This article was originally published on create digital.

space roadmap banner

Space roadmap unlocks future growth opportunities for Australia

Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia, was launched by the Hon Karen Andrews MP at the 18th Australian Space Research Conference on the Gold Coast, held on September 24-26, 2018.

Australian space industries already contribute $3.9 billion a year to the economy and  the business opportunities and jobs growth potential is significant, said Minister Andrews.

Once dominated by billion-dollar government programs, the industry landscape of global space activity and space exploration is now composed of SMEs which provide an array of technology and services. “The benefits from a growing space industry are very local”, said Minister Andrews, highlighting Gold Coast rocket business Gilmour Space Technologies and Opaque Space, a Melbourne-based VR company  working with NASA on an astronaut training simulator.

“We have what it takes to gain a greater share of the market and build a new industry for our nation.”

The industry roadmap report was developed by CSIRO Futures, the strategy advisory arm of Australia’s national space agency. It highlights three key areas for potential development: space exploration and utilisation, space-derived services and space object tracking.  

  1.    The reports recommends that Australia leverage our nation’s industrial and research strengths across astronomy, mining, manufacturing, medicine, agriculture and robotics, and apply these skills to support robotic and human space exploration missions. This will include the development of innovative systems for long-term settlement in space, including habitation and life support.
  2.    Earth observation technology, including satellite communications and positioning, navigation and timing data, can aid in developing businesses which address disaster and water management.
  3.    Australia can take advantage of our geographic position in the Southern Hemisphere to further our work with international programs to track and manage space debris and enable deep space communication.

Key technologies to focus on include power and propulsion systems, autonomous systems and robotics to make missions safer, habitat and life support (including food, protective clothing and housing) and in-situ resource utilisation. The report also emphasises the broader benefits of growing the Australian space industry, as a valuable source of innovation for Earth-based industries, such as communications, agriculture, mining and transport.  

The Australian Space Agency (ACA) was established by the Government with the mandate to triple the size of our domestic space industry up to $12 billion by 2030 and generate 20,000 new jobs.

“Our purpose is to transform and grow a globally respected Australian space industry that inspires Australia”, said Dr Megan Clark AC, the head of the ACA.

Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO Chief Executive, said that he looks forward to the partnership opening up Australian markets, improving productivity, creating new jobs, and securing our STEM talent pipeline into the future. “We are here to help Australia secure our footprint in the space ecosystem,” he said.

In 2017, CSIRO secured access to one of the world’s most advanced high-performance satellites, the NovaSAR satellite. The Satellite was launched on 17 September 2018 and the CSIRO holds a 10% share of tasking and acquisition time over the next seven years. This gives Australian scientists control over the satellite’s data collection over our region and will extend Australian Earth Observation capabilities.

A selection of the research projects associated with NovaSaR include disaster identification and monitoring, improved infrastructure and agriculture mapping, biomass monitoring, flood risk assessment and detection of illegal deforestation and shipping activities.

“A new space agency is not just about industry. It is about creating aspirations about exploring the universe,” said Minister Andrews. “Our space agency will help promote opportunities for our young people and give them the chance to aspire to something they many not even have thought about…Growing our space industry is about growing our future prosperity as a nation.”

– Larissa Fedunik

space

La Trobe and German Aerospace Agency launch Earth observation camera

The DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) was created with assistance from the engineering talent of the La Trobe University Engineering department and the imagery will be used to monitor natural disasters and environmental changes. Thousands witnessed the camera launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, attached to Elon Musk’s Space-X Falcon 9 rocket, on 30 June 2018.

La Trobe Engineering Senior Lecturer and Entrepreneur in Residence, Dr Peter Moar, says the collaboration came about because of the La Trobe TIGER (Digital Radar and Radio Systems) radar team’s unique skills and experience designing hardware and software systems for hazardous environments.  “La Trobe University is very much at the forefront of space technology,” Dr Moar said.

“The unique feature of this camera – that no other system can do – is its ability to capture imagery at varying angles as it’s passing overhead, from some 400 kilometres in outer space,” explains Dr Moar. “With sophisticated on-board processing, it enables us to capture features of the Earth’s surface that have never been achieved before.”

“Typically, a system like this would be launched on a stand-alone satellite. This would make designing, launching and building incredibly expensive,” says Dr Moar. Installing the DESIS on the ISS removes the need for an expensive, stand-alone system. “This is the first time this has been trialled – it’s a very exciting project.”

DESIS has been integrated onto the ISS imaging platform named MUSES (Multi-User System for Earch Sensing) and the images will be used by research organisations and commercial users.

These high quality images will be of key benefit for environmental monitoring. La Trobe’s Securing Food, Water and the Environment Research Group plan to use the data to monitor the health of the Earth’s ecosystem, which includes tracking vegetation cover and water quality.

DESIS will also be a boon for disaster management, such as the control and monitoring of bush fires, floods, ash clouds, storms and drought. The School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at La Trobe and Melbourne-based company ESS Weathertech will use the data for the Firebird fire detection satellite project.  The program will provide more timely fire maps to emergency services to help save lives and minimise damage to property.

Dr Moar says that the La Trobe engineers are uniquely qualified to work on DESIS because of their experience developing radar systems for extremely hazardous environments, such as in La Trobe’s TIGER projects.

“Our involvement with the DESIS program highlights the three decades of expertise in La Trobe’s engineering department. It’s a world-first, cutting edge project”, says Dr Moar.

Earth observation is a key priority for the recently established Australian Space Agency, which aims to position Australia as an international leader in specialised space capabilities. The DESIS is currently in its commissioning phase on the ISS.

space industry

Australia, France join to build space industry capability

Both agencies have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop their respective space programs. The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, welcomed the agreement signed on 1 September by the Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC, and Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) President, Dr Jean-Yves Le Gall.

The agreement will help both countries join forces to develop their space capabilities, particularly in the areas of space operations, space science, Earth observation, positioning system and communications.

“This strategic association between the Australian and French governments’ space agencies will help our nations’ universities, research institutions, businesses and communities work together across a range of fields,” Minister Andrews said.

“It builds on an existing track record of cooperation between CNES and Australia, and allows both countries to embark on an ambitious partnership,” she said.

The first steps are already underway, with CNES partnering with UNSW Canberra Space for the development of the Australian National Concurrent Design Facility (ANCDF) for the development of world class space missions, and for studies towards the development of satellite technologies with advanced sensors and on-board processing and intelligence.

This facility will fast-track Australia’s ability to deliver world-class space technology, provide a boost to economic growth and jobs in Australia, and support future joint missions.

Dr Clark said the signing of the agreement represented the start of the Australian Space Agency’s journey with fellow spacefaring nations.

“Civil space engagement initiatives like this with the French Space Agency will explore advanced space technology and applications used in earth observation and remote sensing with high-altitude balloons and satellites, space operations and joint missions,” Dr Clark said.

CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall also welcomed the agreement.

“Today CNES proudly becomes the Australian Space Agency’s very first international partner. Australia’s amazing ramp-up shows the now crucial importance of space for our economies. The joint projects coming out of today’s agreement will ultimately bring growth and jobs both in Australia and in France.”

Media release from the Hon Karen Andrews MP.

Space debris

Shining a light on space debris

Featured image above: high-power lasers can gently nudge space debris out of the way of an operating satellite. Photo: Lyle Roberts

Each piece of debris in low earth orbit circles the planet around every 90 minutes, placing $1 trillion worth of space infrastructure at risk of collision and serious damage.

In May last year, a window on the International Space Station was chipped by a small piece of space debris believed to be a tiny flake of paint, which highlights the potential for more significant damage.

The idea of changing the orbit of debris using the photon pressure from lasers has been around for a while, but the Space Environment Research Centre (SERC) in Canberra is getting close to demonstrating proof of the concept. They plan to launch dummy satellites, each the size of a shoebox, into low orbit (around 570km) and fire at them with ground-based lasers to slow them down. The satellites will be equipped with sensors that can measure the amount of light hitting the target and the changes in orbit achieved with each pass.

In theory, this technique could be used to bring objects closer to Earth so that they eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

“These are very small forces; you need to know a long way in advance there’s going to be a collision. You can then use the photon pressure to change the orbit over time,” says Dr Steve Gower, general manager of SERC.

SERC plans to launch the first satellite in late 2018 and begin the demonstration phase the following year. The key industry participants on the project are EOS Space Systems and Lockheed Martin, and the project will use  all-Australian technology.

While this technique lacks the precision required to stop a speeding fleck of paint, it could be effective in manoeuvring objects with a high surface-area-to-mass ratio – think the size and weight of a computer monitor.

“We want a large surface area so we can use the maximum amount of particles of light, or photons, hitting the object,” says Gower.

This research program applies the knowledge gleaned from SERC’s other programs, which focused on tracking objects and predicting collisions. If successful, the potential for commercialisation includes offering conjunction analysis so satellite owners can move their assets out of the way of approaching debris or remove the offending space junk before a possible collision.

Find out more at serc.org.au

– Chloe Walker

For more CRC discovery, read KnowHow 2017.

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