3 mins read 28 Oct 2019

$2.1 Million RAAF contract awarded to Saber Astronautics

Saber Astronautics has been awarded with a $2.1 million contract from the Royal Australian Air Force relating to space domain awareness.

Main satellite tracking dish at Tidbinbilla, Canberra. Credit: Steve Bittinger.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has awarded Saber Astronautics with a $1.4 million contract for the space-based engineering company to build an intelligent data fusion network that can process a large number of space objects. The network will use new and existing sensor networks to provide deep insights into space domain awareness.

Space domain awareness is a growing area of interest for many nations, as the number of objects in space require a more detailed, real-time traffic management approach. As the global commercial space industry continues to advance at a rapid rate, with barriers to entry for getting assets into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) being the most accessible in history – concern has started to grow for regulators and asset owners as the number of objects is set to triple over the next decade, with risks such as object collision in orbit now requiring more careful analysis and management.

Mature commercial companies like SpaceX are planning on sending up constellations of satellites (tens of thousands) which will create a much more crowded sphere of objects. There are also already thousands of objects existing in low to medium Earth orbit, many of which are no longer active or utilised.

The Department of Defence (e.g. RAAF) has obvious vested interests in space debris management and space situational awareness – military assets in space are considered high value, sensitive and in some cases classified.

“This contract represents the beginning of a truly collaborative Space Domain Awareness capability that can encompass many ground-based observations which dozens of cutting-edge companies generate every day,'' explained Saber Astronautics Director Andreas Antoniades. “This project will help everyone have safer missions, protect the planet, and assist with the growing problem of space traffic management.”

The amateur space community also continues to grow, and actively participate in observational activities (visual, radar, etc.) which Saber is hoping to utilise as part of their data fusion network.

“We even found hobby astronomy groups getting in on the action,” says Saber Astronautics CEO Dr. Jason Held. “New satellite companies in the USA and Canada often call Australian astronomers, stressed because they couldn’t find their satellite and needed help.”

Sensors vary widely in size and capability and come from both commercial and government sources. Saber Astronautics will use its decade of heritage with machine learning and data fusion algorithms to merge these myriad types into a single solution. In the network, hobby astronomers can be just as important as the government in identifying satellites.

In July 2019, Saber Astronautics announced it had partnered with the University of Sydney based ARC Training Centre for Cubesats, UAVs and their Applications (CUAVA), to manage their flight software and act as mission control for CUAVA’s CubeSat missions – planning to be launched from the International Space Station.

Saber Astronautics will begin early deployment of their intelligent data fusion network technology for testing by mid 2020.