Tag Archives: space research

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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 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.

Off-earth mining

Mining the skies

Just three kilometres in diameter, asteroid 1986DA is a fairly tiny affair by astronomical standards. Yet it contains astonishing wealth. Using radar, astronomers have discovered 1986DA is mainly made up of iron and nickel.

“Essentially, it is a ball of naturally occurring stainless steel,” says Serkan Saydam, a UNSW expert on the mining of off-Earth objects.

Asteroid 1986DA is also estimated to contain more than 10,000 tonnes of gold and 100,000 tonnes of platinum.

The prospect of such mineral riches excites some entrepreneurs. These visionaries picture a fleet of robot spaceships crossing the Solar System to mine its interplanetary resources. This would also open worlds like the Moon and Mars to human colonisation.

With its vast mining experience, Australia is keen to ensure it is in the vanguard of these operations. Hence the appointment of Saydam as an associate professor of mining at UNSW, where he is putting together a small team of off-Earth mining experts. The work of Saydam’s honours student Georgia Craig on asteroid 1986DA highlights the importance of the careful planning that will be needed in future – and the problems that lie ahead.

Named after the year in which it was discovered, asteroid 1986DA orbits the Sun 75 million kilometres from Earth and is rated by the International Astronomical Union as a Near Earth Object, or NEO. But calculations by Saydam show that 1986DA is still too remote to be mined economically. On the other hand, his research suggests that if the asteroid were half its current distance from Earth, it could be viable to exploit.

That is good news because there are about two million other near-Earth asteroids orbiting the Sun. If we can find a better-placed candidate, it could become a target for mining operations. Hence the activities of companies like Planetary Resources (see ‘Frontier horizon’, above) which is preparing to carry out detailed surveys of NEOs to find one best suited for mining operations.

Asteroids like 1986DA are not the only targets for future missions. Other types of asteroids contain far less mineral wealth, but much more water. That could be crucial, says Saydam. “Water will be our prime source of fuel in space, and finding sources will be a priority. Hydrolysis of water produces hydrogen and oxygen, which can be burned together as fuel, and used in space shuttles and/or satellites. To put it bluntly: water is going to be the currency of space.”

Worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa, which has a vast ocean below its frozen surface, and Saturn’s tiny Enceladus, which vents water into space, would be good targets but are too remote.

“We will have to find water much nearer to home, and given that we have to start somewhere, Mars is the logical place to begin our hunt for water on another world,” says Sophia Casanova, a geologist and PhD candidate who is now studying off-Earth mining at UNSW. “Finding and extracting water will be crucial for setting up colonies there.”

The trouble is that, while the poles of Mars have ice, they are too cold and inhospitable to provide homes for early colonists. By contrast, Mars’s equatorial region is warmer and more amenable but lacks water – at least on the surface. “That means we will have to seek it underground,” says Casanova, whose research is now focused on finding ways to pinpoint rich deposits of clays and hydrate deposits at lower latitudes on Mars. “There could be some kind of artesian wells, but we have no evidence of their existence as yet. So we will probably have to use hydrate minerals.”

But how can we extract water from rocks? Casanova explains: “You could put your minerals in a chamber and heat them to extract the water. Alternatively, you could use microwave generators that heat the underground to break up the rocks and release the water that way.”

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Saydam’s team has developed models to evaluate multiple off-Earth mining scenarios.

Another practical problem concerns the use of seismic detectors. On Earth, a charge is set off and seismic waves that bounce off subterranean deposits reveal their presence. But as a tool for exploring other worlds, the technique is poorly developed. “Some seismic measurements were taken of the Moon by Apollo astronauts, and that’s about it,” says Michael Dello-Iacovo, a former geophysicist and now a PhD candidate at UNSW. “An early Mars lander was designed to do that but crashed. Now the Mars InSight Mission is being prepared to carry out seismic studies but will not be launched until 2018.”

Seismic waves may behave very differently on asteroids or other planets, says Dello-Iacovo. “There will be no atmosphere, and virtually no gravity, and we have no idea how that will affect seismic wave behaviours. My research is aimed at tackling that problem,” adds Dello-Iacovo, who is spending a year at JPL working on methods for improving our understanding of asteroid interiors.

“We still don’t know if asteroids have solid cores or are just piles of rubble held together loosely,” Dello-Iacovo says. “If the latter, they might break apart if only a small force is applied to them during a mining operation.”

A host of ethical and legal issues also need to be overcome, says Saydam. “What treaties are we going to have to set up to exploit space? And what would happen if we suddenly turned a rare metal like platinum into a commonplace one by bringing huge chunks back to Earth? We could trigger a crash in international metal markets.

“On the other hand, off-Earth mining has the potential to trigger great expansion in the global economy and we must make sure that Australia can influence that through its research capabilities. We also need to make sure we have trained manpower to take advantage of this great adventure.”

– Robin McKie

Top 10 Science Meets Business Innovations

Featured image above: Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis 

1 THE CURE

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: PRMT5 inhibitors

IMPACT: The Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), with its UK-based commercialisation partner, Cancer Research Technology, has licensed rights to a program of small molecule drugs called PRMT5 inhibitors to MSD (Merck in the US and Canada) in a multimillion-dollar deal. PRMT5 drugs have clinical potential in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders. The deal involved an upfront payment of $21 million and potential payments in excess of $700 million. A minimum of 70% of those payments will be returned to CTx.

Cancer Therapeutics CRC


2 INNOVATION IN EXPLORATION

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: RoXplorer®

IMPACT: The new RoXplorer® will help access previously hard to locate greenfields (unchartered) mineral deposits beneath the barren surface rocks, which obscure mineralised rocks in about 80% of Australia. RoXplorer® will drill at around one sixth the cost of conventional diamond drilling techniques and be much safer. This will help reverse a two decades old trend which has seen Australia’s share of the world’s expenditure on mineral exploration drop from one quarter to one eighth.

Deep Exploration Technology CRC


3 SAVING EVERY DROP

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Aquarevo

IMPACT: Each of the 44 homes in Australia’s first water sensitive community, Aquarevo, in Lyndhurst, Victoria, requires approximately 70% less mains water than a regular suburban house. The homes catch, filter and treat most of their own water supply. Houses are plumbed with three types of water – drinking, recycled and rainwater – which means drinking water won’t
be flushed down the toilet. The project was developed in conjunction with Villawood properties and South East Water.

CRC for Water Sensitive Cities


4 DRIVING ON EMPTY

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: eBus

IMPACT: A partnership of the AutoCRC, Swinburne University of Technology’s Electric Vehicle Laboratory and Bustech (part of Transit Australia Group), this is the first electric bus to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia. The buses are, on average, 80% cheaper to maintain than the current diesel buses. Each seat has a USB charger for mobile devices and the buses seat 50 passengers. Late last year, Bustech signed a deal to produce buses for the South Australian government.

Excellerate Australia (Automotive Australia 2020 CRC)


5 THE DEMISE OF CASH

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: digi.cash

IMPACT: digi.cash is a system that allows the issuing and circulation of many different kinds of electronic cash. It can be stored on phones, computers or an external storage drive like a USB and can be sent the same way as any other file. The digi.cash founder Andreas Furche says it is “much faster than Blockchain-based so-called cryptocurrencies, and much better suited for centrally issued financial instruments, like national currencies, or shares”.

Capital Markets CRC digi.cash


6 SAFETY FIRST

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: “If It’s Flooded, Forget it” campaign

IMPACT: Multimedia communications encouraging specific behaviour during disasters can be challenging. The BNHCRC has proven that use of the right visual imagery in official emergency warning communications assist people to act appropriately. Early versions of the “If it’s Flooded, Forget it” preparedness campaign inadvertently showed people engaged in “exactly the activity that we are trying to prevent” according to QUT’s Professor Vivienne Tippett, who is a BNHCRC lead researcher. New versions of the campaign involve a 4WD coming to a flooded waterway and deciding not to drive through, “the behaviour we’re trying to encourage”.

Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC


7 SWIMMING UPSTREAM

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Carp bio-control virus

IMPACT: Carp are one of the worst introduced freshwater aquatic species in Australia with an economic impact estimated at up to $500 million per year. A new carp bio-control virus with potential to kill up to 95% of individual carp is ready to be released.  “Ten years of CRC research has basically given the answer the carp bio-control agent is safe and useable,” says Invasive Animals CRC communications manager, Ian McDonald. The virus will be most effective in the first couple of years of use.

Invasive animals CRC


8 AIMING HIGH

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: International collaboration on laser signals

IMPACT: In collaboration with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, researchers from the CRC for Space Environment Management sent a beam of light, via an electro-optic laser from Mt Stromlo in Canberra, 6.7 million km away to an accelerating Japanese satellite called Hayabusa 2. It showed that a laser of this capacity can reach space debris in near-Earth orbit and is a significant step towards being able to more accurately track and eventually manoeuvre space debris (see “Shining a light on space debris”).

CRC for Space Environment Management 


9 FIGHTING MORE THAN FIRES

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Assessing measurement of toxic chemicals

IMPACT: PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are common toxic synthetic fluorinated chemicals. While being phased out, they are still encountered in fire-fighting chemicals. The National Measurement Institute collaborated with EPA Victoria on a CRC CARE project to conduct Australia’s first proficiency studies for these contaminants. These studies are an important tool for assessing contamination.

CRC CARE


10 ON THIN ICE

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Totten Glacier thinning

IMPACT: Taking advantage of a long crack that opened up in sea ice (which is normally impenetrable to ships), ACE CRC researchers used Australia’s icebreaker Aurora Australis to confirm that the Totten Glacier, East Antarctica’s largest glacier, is melting from below as warm ocean water reaches the ice shelf. Totten has the highest basal melt rate among Eastern Antarctic ice shelves and contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by about 3.5m if it melted completely.

 Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC

New science magazine INGENUITY launched

Featured image above: At the launch of INGENUITY with UNSW Dean of Engineering Mark Hoffman, Refraction Media cofounders Karen Taylor-Brown and Heather Catchpole, and UNSW Engineering’s senior communications advisor Wilson da Silva

INGENUITY, a new science magazine focusing on the frontiers of engineering research at UNSW and with a global distribution, was launched on Tuesday by UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, Mark Hoffman.

“We are, without question, a powerhouse of engineering research in Australia,” said Hoffman. “With nine schools, 32 research centres and participating or leading 10 Cooperative Research Centres, we do truly amazing research – among the world’s best. And we work with more than 500 partners in industry and government to bring the fruits of that research to society.

“We have capacity to do more, as many potential research partners in Australia and overseas are not necessarily aware of the breadth and depth of what we do,” he added. “If we are to have the greatest impact in the world at large, as a university and as engineers, we need to get our research out to the world.  And the creation of INGENUITY is part of that effort.”

Hoffman said the magazine was one of a number of initiatives UNSW Engineering is pursuing to enhance the Faculty’s global impact and its academic and research excellence.

“In May, we hosted the first Ingenuity Fellow, a journalist-in-residence program for overseas science journalists. Our inaugural recipient was Rebecca Morelle, global science correspondent for BBC News in London, and she spent three weeks on-campus meeting some of our best minds and most impressive innovators. And last month, we held a sold-out public event with Peter Norvig, Research Director at Google, talking about Google’s approach to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We mean to not just be the leading engineering faculty in the country but, in a global industry, to be seen as one of the great engineering faculties of the world,” he concluded.

Through engaging storytelling by some of the country’s finest science writers, stylish design and beautiful photography, INGENUITY will bring to life the Faculty’s work in areas like quantum computing, bionic vision, solar energy, water and city environments, artificial intelligence, biomedical instrumentation, robotics, advanced polymers, space research, materials and membranes, cyber security and sustainable design.

The free magazine is being distributed to senior executives of Australia’s largest corporations, federal and state parliamentarians and senior government officials, scientific and industry collaborators of UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering globally, as well as science and technology journalists worldwide. The print edition is also being distributed to Australian embassies and trade offices overseas, and at the biennial World Conference of Science Journalists and the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The magazine is produced by specialist custom publishing house Refraction Media, whose clients include Google, the CRC Association, the Office to the Chief Scientist and ANSTO, and who was named Best Small Publisher in 2015 at the annual Publish Awards.

“Quality long-form journalism in science and technology is hard to come by in Australia,” said Wilson da Silva, the faculty’s senior communications advisor and former editor-in-chief of COSMOS magazine, which he co-founded with Alan Finkel, now Australia’s Chief Scientist. “There’s a wealth of great research stories to tell at UNSW, and we hope that everyone, including the general public, will enjoy the quality writing in INGENUITY and the great stories of Australian research excellence it has to tell.”

How to receive INGENUITY:

This information was first shared by UNSW Engineering on 5 July 2017. 

lost satellite

Lost satellite?

Featured image above: the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher on the Japanese arm of the International Space Station

The first Australian satellite in 15 years, UNSW-EC0, was successfully deployed from the International Space Station, but the UNSW engineers who built it were unable to establish contact when it made its first pass above Sydney.

UNSW-EC0 was ejected from the station at 3:25pm AEST on 26 May, and made its first pass over Sydney at 4:21pm. Engineers at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) were unable to pick up the signal it is meant to send to confirm the cubesat is operating as designed.

“We’re not overly concerned yet,” said Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER. “We’re troubleshooting a number of scenarios for why we didn’t detect it, from checking our ground equipment to exploring the possibility that the batteries might have discharged. But at the moment, we just don’t know.”

“If it is the batteries, the satellite has solar panels and will be able to recharge,” said Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat. “But because it was deployed in the Earth’s shadow, we have to wait for it to make a few orbits before it has recharged, especially if it’s tumbling. So it could be 24 to 48 hours.”

The International Space Station, or ISS, will make four more passes over Sydney on Friday 25 May, and the UNSW team of 15 researchers and students will again try to establish contact, and run a series of tests for scenarios to explain the lack of a signal.

UNSW-EC0 is one of three Australian research satellites – two of them built at the UNSW – that blasted off just after on April 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its mission is to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere, study its atomic composition as well as test new robust computer chips and GPS devices developed at UNSW.

In addition, its chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using  3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

The cubesat is part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – that will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth. This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

“These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” said Andrew Dempster, director of ACSER at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia. “There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

UNSW-EC0 was deployed from the ISS from a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that eject cubesats at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), allowing them to drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements.

“This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” said Aboutanios. “It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

“So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he added.

QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” said VKI’s Davide Masutti. “The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

This article was first published by UNSW Engineering. Read the original article here.

cubesats

Lift-off for Australian CubeSats!

Featured image above: Artist’s impression of the UNSW-EcO cubesat in space. Credit: UNSW Australia

Three Australian research satellites – the first in 15 years – blasted off on Wednesday 19th April from Cape Canaveral and arrived at the International Space Station on Saturday. They will soon be deployed in orbit to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere.

The trio, two of them built at UNSW Australia, are part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – which will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth.

This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

cubesats
Three Australian research satellites blast off from Cape Canaveral. Credit: UNSW

Twenty-eight of the QB50 satellites, including the three Australian cubesats, were aboard the Atlas 5 rocket when it launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The three Australian satellites are UNSW-EC0, built by UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) which will study the atomic composition of the thermosphere along with new robust computer chips and GPS; INSPIRE-2, a project led by the University of Sydney and involving UNSW and the Australian National University which was also partly built at ACSER; and SuSAT, a joint project between by the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.

cubesats
The INSPIRE-2 cubesat

“These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” says Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia.

“There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

Sometime in May, the first 20 cubesats – including INSPIRE-2 and SUSat – will be deployed from the International Space Station, or ISS, via a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that will eject them at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), and they will drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements. UNSW-EC0 will be deployed with the remaining seven other cubesats around June 17.

cubesats
The Japanese robotic arm of the ISS hosts the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher. Credit: UNSW

Also aboard the Atlas 5 rocket is Biarri Point, a cubesat for defence applications testing carrying new GPS technology developed by UNSW’s ACSER and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group. It is part of a four-nation defence project between Australia, the US, the UK and Canada that will see the launch of another two cubesats over the next year. The remaining eight QB50 cubesat will be launched separately into orbit by an Indian rocket later in May.

“This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” says Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER.

“It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

“So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he says.

cubesats
Project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER, Elias Aboutanios. Credit: UNSW

QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” says VKI’s Davide Masutti.

“The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

Both the QB50 and Biarri projects show what Australia can do in the new age of cubesats, dubbed ‘Space 2.0’, that allows companies and researchers to develop new space applications and devices and launch them at much lower cost.

“It proves that, even with modest resources, Australians can be players in space industry and research,” says Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat.

“UNSW-EC0 and INSPIRE-2 prove we can devise and build space-ready hardware which can tolerate the punishing strain of blast-off and the harsh conditions of space.”

cubesats
The team that built the UNSW-Ec0 and INSPIRE-2 satellites. Credit: Herzliya Science Centre

Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, agrees. “We used to think of space as a place only big-budget space agencies could play in. The advent of cheap and powerful cubesats has made space accessible as never before, and that’s going to be great for industry and research applications. I’m delighted to see UNSW playing a leading role in this emerging sector in Australia. “

Each QB50 cubesat carries instruments with its own engineering and scientific goals. UNSW-EC0, for example, has three other experiments: a robust computer chip designed to avoid crashing in the harsh radiation of space, as some satellites and space probes are forced to do when hit by cosmic rays; a space-borne GPS to enable satellites to cluster together in swarms; and test a super-reliable computer microkernel in the harsh radiation of space.

In addition, UNSW-EC0’s chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using  3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

This information was first shared by UNSW Australia on 19 April 2017. Read the original article here, or watch the video below.