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5 mins read 02 Nov 2020

100kg payload to orbit in 2023: Gilmour Space and Griffith University

Gold Coast rocket launch company, Gilmour Space Technologies has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Griffith University to launch a 100 kg payload into Low Earth Orbit by 2023.

Artist illustration of the Gilmour Space Technologies ERIS rocket separating in space. Credit: Gilmour Space Technologies.

Gold Coast-based Gilmour Space Technologies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Griffith University to research, test and build locally developed satellites, expected to be launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) from 2023.

The MoU outlines a strategic 5-year plan that works towards the development of aerospace applications, such as small satellite prototypes, with the holistic outlook of increasing Australia’s sovereign space capabilities from point of research to point of orbital insertion.

Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies, discussed the excitement that the opportunity to work with Griffith University brought to the Australian space industry, now and into the future with the inspiration, it would provide to young people.  

“This project is about demonstrating to Australia that we can build and launch a significant-sized satellite with significant capability”.

“It’s also about working with local partners like Griffith to education the next generation of space engineers who take us to orbit,” said Mr Gilmour.

The new MoU outlines the launch of the largest payload capability in recent times, with Gilmour’s rockets expected to take a 100 kg prototype satellite into LEO, which in turn increases the capacity to include higher calibre instrumentation, such as specialised cameras and on-board processing computers.

Griffith University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans said the partnership would offer significant benefits. 

“By entering into this MOU with Gilmour Space, we will be helping to create the jobs of the future by delivering world-class capability hand-in-hand with industry, in this exciting and growing market,” Professor Evans said. 

“One of the most exciting elements of this partnership will be the development of a prototype 100 kg satellite for improved Earth observation by, for instance, utilising LEO satellites in disaster management applications, mining operations, thermal mapping of fires, reef and flood monitoring, land use and urban planning.”

Australia's need to launch

The Black Arrow rocket, one of the first rockets launched into Space from Australia in the late 1960s and early 1970s from Woomera, SA. Credit: Gov.UK.

Whilst Australia was one of the first nations to launch an object into space in the late 1960s, there’s been several decades of minimal activity in the sector, including a lack of launch capability – which has resulted in all Australian space-based assets (like satellites used for Earth Observation) being launched into orbit by overseas partners.

Over the last few years, the local space industry has outlined a case to the Government that the reliance of overseas service providers carries a number of risks that limit our opportunity to utilise space-based services - which have become increasingly integrated and demanded through real-time technology requirements, such as the management of natural disasters, agricultural and financial services.

The Australia Government has therefore recently recognised the space industry as a manufacturing opportunity and is now building space-based capabilities into many sectors – extending beyond the regular research and development (R&D), and into applications and services. Companies like Gilmour Space Technologies, Southern Launch Australia, and Equatorial Launch Australia are at the forefront of this new boom and are edging towards making this the new norm.

Professor Paulo de Souza, Head of School, School of Information and Communication Technology, who has worked with NASA on the Mars rover projects, said a Space Tech Lab is currently being built at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus, offering dedicated facilities for researchers and Gilmour staff to work collaboratively. 

“Aerospace capability is in deep need right here in Australia, for defence, disaster management and environmental observations,” he said. 

“We are relying too much on a few companies and legacy systems for critical capability to keep Australia safe.

“This partnership will make a world of difference to the current landscape.” 

New Research Centre and Education

Collaboration between Gilmour Space Technologies and Griffith University will extend beyond the development and deployment of the 100 kg satellite prototype, with both companies contributing to the development of the Collaborative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) – which aims to develop composite rocket fuels tanks for low-cost space transport.

The consortium, which includes Etamax Engineering and Northrop Grumman, will manufacture composite tanks up to two metres in diameter and trial them in rocket flights, in a bid to reduce weight, increase reliability and achieve cost savings. 

In addition to this, Griffith University and Gilmour Space Technologies continue to work together through education opportunities that provide real-world experience for students at the University.

“This is a great collaboration for us and indeed Gilmour Space has already hired some of our graduates,” said Professor Evans.

“We look forward to extending our internship arrangements and new opportunities for staff exchange. There are exciting chances to co-design inspirational industry-focused educational programs for students and professionals.” 

Gilmour's Progress

A computer-generated model of the proposed Gilmour Space rocket ERIS. Credit: image supplied by Gilmour Space Technologies.

2020 has seen Gilmour progress and build upon its strengths, working with the Australian space industry, which included singing a new partnership with the University of Queensland, successfully completing a first 45-second test fire of their hybrid engine, followed by doubling that record to through a secondary 110-second test, as well as announcing a partnership with the Australian Defence Force.

Learn more about Australia’s space launch industry