4 mins read 24 Feb 2021

Saber teams up with weather bureau for real-time space monitoring

Saber Astronautics has announced that it will use cutting-edge technology, with the assistance of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, to monitor spacecraft as part of its new Mission Control Centre.

Saber's PIGI software (Predictive Interactive Groundstation Interface), which allows customers to see large constellations, SSA, and dish control embedded in the same tool. Credit: Aidan O'Brien, Saber Astronautics

In June 2020, Saber Astronautics was selected by The Department of Industry, Science, Innovation, and Resources in conjunction with the Australian Space Agency to develop Australia’s Mission Control Centre at Adelaide's Lot Fourteen, the site of the Australian Space Agency Headquarters. The company received a grant totalling $6 million from the Australian Government’s Space Infrastructure Fund.

The facility, officially named the Responsive Space Operations Centre (RSOC), is set to open in March this year. Consistent with Saber’s mission to bring space organisations ‘out of the stone-age’, the RSOC will be the world’s first professional control centre to use machine learning in daily spacecraft operations. Some of the many capabilities of the RSOC will include pre-flight testing, launch support and live operations during flight, which are all important steps in the lifespan of a space payload. 


A render of the Saber Astronautics Mission Control Centre behind a window within the Australian Space Discovery Centre. Credit: Aidan O’Brien, Saber Astronautics

A new collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology

Now, the Bureau of Meteorology has agreed to provide Saber with real-time space weather data, including space radiation and solar storms, both of which have the potential to affect the health of a satellite, even if that satellite’s orbital path is within the Earth’s protective magnetosphere. 

Dr Sarah Spackman, the Bureau's Space Weather Services National Manager, says that the Bureau is excited about the initiative, which will provide the meteorological organisation with an opportunity to develop novel environmental intelligence to help position the rapidly growing Australian space industry at the forefront of efficient spacecraft operations.

With many services on Earth demonstrating increased reliance on satellites, such as GPS, telecommunications and Earth observations, having access to this data is crucial to diagnose and predict problems with the satellites. For RSOC customers who operate the satellite, keeping a constant eye on their payloads will be invaluable, especially for newer customers.

As Saber’s CEO, Dr Jason Held explains, “Spacecraft operators need to know what is happening in space in the same way a boat needs to know what is happening at sea. Every minute of downtime is millions of dollars in lost revenue.”

Another view of Saber's PIGI software which coordinates Mission Control, Mission Design, SSA, Space Weather and Space Traffic Management. Credit: Aidan O'Brien, Saber Astronautics

About Saber Astronautics

Saber Astronautics’ mission is to increase access to spaceflight and make the operation of payloads in space “so easy your kids can use it”. Since its incorporation in 2008, Saber has provided multidisciplinary services from space operations to software design, with facilities in Boulder, Colorado USA, as well as Sydney, Australia (two strategic locations that can keep an eye on any part of the sky at all times). 

Some of its past projects have included the development of diagnostic software to distinguish a soft vs hard impact on a spacecraft in collaboration with CSIRO, and the modelling of a community-built rocket with the NSW Rocketry Association. They have also engaged in non-space endeavours such as the modelling of the stock market for a startup hedge fund.

Over the last 1-2 years, Saber has really been increasing a lot of its activity across the Australian space industry, having previously won a prestigious grant from NASA for its work in testing drag sail technology for deorbiting spacecraft. It has also collaborated with many prominent names in the space industry, including with Boeing Australia to troubleshoot satellites in orbit using artificial intelligence (AI), and with Space Machines to send Australia's first sovereign-developed mission to the Moon.

Saber's program called TAROT, a live satellite tracking software which can be found through the following link. Credit: Aidan O'Brien, Saber Astronautics

Keeping an Eye on Space

The Bureau of Meteorology is the Australian Government’s weather, climate and water agency. While it is more well known for monitoring weather on planet Earth, its Space Weather Services team also provides space weather information and warnings to Australia and the world, particularly for sectors like defence, aviation and space.

Some of the features of the Space Weather Service include daily forecasts of space weather (including solar wind, X-ray flares and aurora alerts) and how critical infrastructure in space and on the ground could be impacted. The service also provides educational resources, in which it explains various aspects of space weather and astronomical events like the Transit of Venus and solar eclipses in layman’s terms.

Saber’s collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology is a relevant and a strategic one which hopes to see Australia’s sovereign space capabilities continue to flourish. 

The Bureau of Meteorology's Space Weather Services provides real-time insight and predictions about the effects of radiation and solar events on Earth infrastructure. Credit: BOM