3 mins read 01 Apr 2021

Academia and Industry Team up for Sensor-based Satellite Technology

A research agreement between University of Sydney, Thales Australia, and HEO Robotics will see the investigation of autonomous vision-based space object tracking and detection technologies.


Space domain awareness is the study of the satellites orbiting Earth, including their detection and tracking. University of Sydney has signed a research agreement with Thales Australia and HEO Robotics to investigate these functions through autonomous vision-based technologies. 

The project will involve an initial scoping study phase to explore the potential of in-orbit platform-based sensor technologies to support space domain awareness, as well as satellite docking and maintenance. The project is funded by the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, who also recently announced their coordination of a satellite manufacturing project in South Australia

The Dean of the Faculty of Engineering from the University of Sydney, Professor Willy Zwaenepoel, commented on the importance of the research project to the university.

“This project represents an outstanding opportunity to engage with a global industry leader in the area of satellite systems, while also nurturing our domestic capability in Australia,” he said.

"It will engage our staff and students in the development of state-of-the-art satellite capabilities. Having recently been designated as the Academic Institution of the Year at the Australian Space Awards, the University of Sydney is in a unique position to deliver on the proposed project outcomes.”

The University of Sydney research team includes Dr Xiaofeng Wu, Dr Youngho Eun, Associate Professor Zhiyong Wang, Dr Zhe Chen, Professor Iver Cairns, and Dr Xueliang Bai.

Big Industry Partners with Aussie Space

The Thales Alenia Constellation satellite constellation. Credit: ThalesGroup.

Thales Australia is an international defence giant who signed a strategic deal with the Australian Space Agency late 2019. Thales Australia Director of Technical Strategy, Michael Clarke said that the company has a long history of partnering with small-medium enterprises (SMEs) to foster the development of next-generation technologies.

“This research project is no exception, and is another great example of demonstrating how collaboration will help grow sovereign space capability, while providing additional opportunities for SMEs to feed into our global projects,” said Mr Clark.

Checking Satellite Health in Orbit

An artist’s impression of a HEO Robotics satellite. Credit: HEO Robotics.

HEO Robotics (High Earth Orbit Robotics), headquartered in Sydney, is a specialist in on-orbit satellite inspection services. The CEO of HEO Robotics, William Crowe, also commented on the potential of the research project.

 “HEO Robotics is an ambitious Australian space startup that is already supplying customers with insights using our HEO Inspect product. We’re pleased to work with the likes of Thales Australia and the University of Sydney to supercharge our development and feed into the global supply chain of leading space companies,” he said.