5 mins read 04 Feb 2021

University of Western Australia Launches International Space Centre

The University of Western Australia is expanding its horizons by launching an International Space Centre to research technologies to help sustain life away from Earth.

Over the last few years the Australian space sector has started to take off in terms of activity, employment, participation and economy. In particular, Western Australia’s astronomy and space industry is growing at an excellent pace - highlighting that as a nation, our space community isn’t just focused on the Eastern states - but rather diverse and geographically spread.

With mega-science projects like the Square Kilometre Array about to commence construction, the leading progress in astrophotonics, the outreach into the Western Australian (WA) population through programs like AstroFest, or the research being driven through the ASKAP and MWA instruments - WA is powering full steam ahead when it comes to space. 

Now, the University of Western Australia (UWA) is diving into the rapidly growing space industry with the opening of their new International Space Centre. This centre will focus on research and teaching, and the development of innovative technologies to enhance and sustain humans and other life beyond the surface of Earth.

“The Centre will build on WA’s strength in mining, astronomy, data, communications and remote operations, and support the diversification of the WA economy and jobs growth in high skill areas,” Associate Professor Danail Obreschkow, interim Head of the International Space Centre, said.

“Through this Centre, we will collaborate with partners to transfer knowledge, develop technological innovations and carry out impactful research. The Centre will also provide new education opportunities for our students and industry.”

The International Space Centre

Left to right: UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds CSC, Minister for Science Hon. Dave Kelly MLA and UWA Professor Danail Obreschkow. Credit: UWA.

The centre consists of a multidisciplinary team from UWA, including 150 researchers and 20 PhD students across 12 research areas. This research will involve collaboration across many fields, including optical communications, astrophysics, health, agriculture, engineering, information technology, and social studies. 

For instance, scientists will contribute to research on the effects of gravity on living organisms like humans and plants. Work like this would enable the development of technology to support space exploration and the construction of safe environments that allow us to sustain life away from Earth. 

UWA Vice Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma commented on the potential of the new centre to contribute to the exploration of space.  

“There is still much to learn about space and this Centre will be an important step forward in providing new research and knowledge, integral to our future,” Professor Chakma said. 

“For more than half a century, UWA has been actively involved in space research and developing space technologies. The International Space Centre is an acknowledgement of this, and our own signal that we want to do more and that we will. It brings together people who can fire each other’s imagination and the possibilities of what they can achieve together are vast,” he said. 

The Centre was launched by WA Minister for Science, the Hon. Dave Kelly MLA, and Federal Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds CSC.

Science Goes Big in WA

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). Credit: CSIRO.

Aside from the telescope arrays that reside at the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, WA has also propelled and been involved in a number of space community activities, from student projects to international agreements. 

Historically, WA in space communications has played a vital and active role (due to the enormous swath of southern sky coverage it can offer, where no other country on Earth can) in programs like NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Moon landings. 

These days, the state plays host to the New Norcia Deep Space Ground Station, actively working with the European Space Agency, hosts the Desert Fireball Network - a project that seeks to triangulate and locate the exact location of incoming meteorites, works closely with the US-Australian Space Surveillance team and even has an established Solar Observatory. 

Recently, scientists from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and the UWA, helped develop the world’s most stable laser - building the ability to transmit across a distance and completely remove the effects of the atmosphere in a world first. 

University of Western Australia Aerospace with their EMU project. Credit: UWA Aerospace.

The next generation of scientists and engineers for the Australian space community are also getting in on the action - with students from UWA designing and testing microgravity experiments which take purpose developed rocket bodies to 30 km high on a balloon, then drop them to observe the effects on onboard prototype instrumentation and assets. 

A UWA / ICRAR contingent also recently led an international team to be selected as one of six finalists for the AMC Gordon Bell Prize, rewarded for their innovative approach to high performance computing which will eventually lead towards more efficient and productive systems installed in the Square Kilometre Array telescope.