6 mins read 25 Jan 2021

South Australia to manufacture its first satellite from home soil

South Australia is set to launch its first-ever locally-manufactured satellite to space in April 2022 with the help of Adelaide-based space companies Inovor Technologies and Myriota.

Artist impression of SASAT1. Credit: Alex Preist, Inovor Technologies.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced last week that the state will be partnering with local space industry stakeholders to send a 6-unit nanosatellite, named SASAT1, into low Earth orbit (LEO) within an estimated delivery date of 15 months.

With the project starting to take shape early this year, the SASAT1 Space Services Mission is targeted to be launched in early to mid-2022 and will remain operational in LEO for at least another five years to survey the state’s weather and natural environment.

South Australia is quickly becoming known as the hub for space innovation and industry in Australia, and the SASAT1 brings together some of the most valuable players across the state and the nation.

“South Australia is embarking on a bold mission with industry to design and build a satellite to deliver space-derived services to the state – a venture never undertaken before by any State Government around the country,” Premier Marshall said.

“Not only will the satellite help us make better decisions for state services, it comprehensively cements South Australia as the space state.

“To be announcing that we will embark on a flagship space mission in early 2021 to deliver progressive space-derived services to South Australia is astounding and demonstrates why our state is the national leader in space innovation.”

Inovor Technologies to build Vehicle

Artist illustration of an Inovor Satellite (not SASAT1) in orbit. Credit: Inovor Technologies.

Inovor specialises in building satellite buses (the shell of the satellite that holds all the components and payloads together in place). In the same way that buses on the road protect and transport humans, these satellite buses serve the purpose of carrying the all-important payload to LEO while keeping it safe from the stresses of launch and space weather. 

For the SASAT1 mission, Inovor has been tasked with designing, building and testing the satellite bus. Inovor has developed a family of satellites called Apogee, which is available as a turnkey solution for commercial use. The SASAT1 nanosatellite will be a 6-unit Apogee Cubesat, which is a 2 x 3 grid of six cubes, each of 10cm in length.

CEO of Inovor, Matthew Tetlow, comments that the SASAT1 mission will demonstrate “how information from space can be used to improve our lives on Earth.” He also adds that it is “also helping to build a space ecosystem that will support the creation of more high-tech careers into the future for young South Australians.”

While the above two space startups are proudly Adelaide-based, the company that will provide the rocket to launch the satellite to an altitude of approximately 400km has not yet been announced. Presumably, this rate-limiting step (Fleet article) would depend on the launch schedule of each of the handful of companies that are currently available, including Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

Myriota to build Payload

Credit: SmarSatCRC and Sarah Darbyshire.

Myriota is an Australian telecommunications company with an impressive track record in providing low-cost, long-lasting IoT connectivity while eliminating the need for additional ground-based stations or other infrastructure. 

Previously, it has partnered with companies like Optus Business and Future Fleet International, providing small, affordable IoT devices that can be used for telecommunications and logistics management in a much more efficient, safe and cost-effective manner.

For the SASAT1 mission, Myriota will be playing the critical role of developing the payload, or the ‘functional’ part of the satellite. The payload will collect data in Earth observation imaging via a hyperspectral electro-optical imager, and combine this data with that which is collected from ground-based sensors. The goal is to gather information about various weather events, including rainfall and bushfires, which may not only help us take action on natural disasters in SA but also facilitate more bigger-picture predictions about climate change locally, nationally and even internationally. 

Indeed, CEO and co-founder of Myriota, Alex Grant, praises South Australia as “leading the growth of our national ecosystem. The Space Services Mission will benefit South Australians through the improved delivery of emergency services, and environmental monitoring.”

SmartSAT CRC To Coordinate Project

Credit: SmartSat CRC.

Funded by the Australian Government, SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre is a group of 45 research organisations and universities that aims to develop and support industry expertise in the field of telecommunications and Internet of Things (IoT) services as provided by satellites. Since its induction in mid-2019, some of its groundbreaking and far-reaching achievements so far include partnering with NASA Search and Rescue to advance distress-related communications and navigations, and establishing the Aurora Space Startup Cluster to boost Australia’s space tech supply chain.

SmartSat CRC Chief Executive Professor Andy Koronios says that the SASAT1 mission is a testimony to the hard work that South Australia has put into boosting the local satellite manufacturing supply chain, and says that “SmartSat is incredibly excited to be providing leadership for this South Australian Government initiative and we are committed to providing expertise and R&D capability to make the mission a great success.”

With its expansive $245 million portfolio, SmartSat CRC is in a prime position to coordinate the SASAT1 mission. This mammoth task involves bringing together two leading Adelaide-based space startups, Myriota and Inovor Technologies.

South Australia - the growing space state

A view of Adelaide from space. Credit: International Space Station/NASA.

The SASAT1 mission ticks many boxes when it comes to local industry and jobs. The ten-year strategy, “South Australia Growth State: Space Sector Strategy”, released in November 2020, outlines a plan to ‘lead the state’s space industry development efforts’ by ‘building on the state’s strong starting position in the NewSpace economy’. 

“The SASAT1 Space Services Mission will deliver significant value to our state and to our local space industry as well as paving the way for growth in space-craft export, IoT sensor exports, Department of Defence and Australian Government space and defence-related projects and the South Australian supply chain,” Premier Marshall said.

“The satellite will also allow South Australian school students to view firsthand the vital information we gain from satellites right here in their own backyard. This is just one step in getting our next generation excited about what a career in space could mean for them.”

“Applications include using the data and imagery we collect to solve real-life problems, like helping farmers monitor water levels so they can more accurately predict future yields.”

And the SASAT1 mission does exactly that. In fact, South Australia has a lot to be proud of, with Fleet Space recently unveiling its Seven Sisters lunar exploration. Additionally, Australia as a whole is now on its way to sending its own Cubesats to Lunar orbit by 2024, headed by Space Machines and Deloitte.