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4 mins read 28 Jun 2021

ANU wins $2.5 million grant to boost space testing facilities

The Australian National University (ANU) has been awarded a $2.5 million grant by the Australian Space Agency. The aim of the funding is to establish a network of infrastructure for space testing facilities to offer end-to-end payload testing services within Australia.  

Professor Anna Moore, Director, Australian National University's Institute for Space (InSpace), photographed at Mount Stromlo Observatory (Lannon Harley/ANU).

The Australian National University (ANU) has been awarded a $2.5 million grant by the Australian Space Agency through the federal government’s Space Infrastructure Fund. The aim of the funding is to establish a National Space Qualification Network (NSQN) offering end-to-end payload testing services to Australian manufacturers.  

The bulk of the funding from the Australian Space Agency will go to the Heavy Ion Accelerator at ANU, allowing components destined for space, such as computers and other devices, to be tested against extreme radiation. The funding will also help to establish Australia’s first dedicated space-focused pyroshock testing capability at the ANU’s Mount Stromlo space testing centre. Pyroshock testing measures the impact on payloads of the explosive forces generated during stage separation of rockets. 

The infrastructure network National Space Qualification Network (NSQN) will be delivered by the ANU and its space research partners including Saber Astronautics, The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Nova Systems, The University of Wollongong, and Steritech. 

Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo said the NSQN will bring a more commercial focus to space qualification.

“While the network will be spread across six states and territories, it will have a single point of entry for businesses, ensuring a simple and seamless experience and a strong commercial focus,” Mr Palermo said.

“By creating this service, we also believe that we can make Australia a highly desirable testing destination for overseas space manufacturers, generating more money for research and helping to boost our domestic economy.”

Director of ANU Institute for Space Professor Anna Moore said the new funding and upgraded facilities would help "launch Australia's burgeoning space industry to another level".

"Australia's space industry is growing. Upgraded facilities will mean we can make sure the payloads we send into space, including satellites and spacecraft, are able to survive before they blast off. Testing space payloads, components and spacecraft before they are launched into space helps make space missions more successful. One key threat to satellites is radiation.  

"This funding will deliver much-needed, state-of-the-art radiation testing facilities to ensure the success of Australian space missions.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Christian Porter said creating an end-to-end testing capability will save space manufacturers both time and money, as they will no longer have to send sensitive equipment offshore to ensure it meets Australian and international standards.

“Australia already has a range of sophisticated testing facilities that can simulate the vacuum, extreme temperatures, vibrations and G-forces encountered during space missions that can cause electronic equipment to fail or malfunction,” Minister Porter said.

“But an audit conducted last year by the Australian Space Agency identified gaps in our testing network, including the lack of a specialist ionising radiation testing facility."

“The funding provided through this grant will enable us to establish this capability within Australia, making it easier and cheaper for local businesses to qualify their products for sale into global and domestic supply chains.”

The National Space Qualification Network

Technicians check over a satellite after undergoing a test at the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre (AITC), located at the Australian National University's Mount Stromlo Observatory. (Lannon Harley/ANU).

The $2.5 million grant is part of the Space Infrastructure Fund from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, administered by the Australian Space Agency. Along with the ANU, there are five additional partners contributing to the network over the next two years.  

ANU will deliver internationally recognised radiation testing, the ability to monitor sensitive hardware in the largest thermal vacuum chamber in Australia (the WOMBAT XL), the first standardised pyroshock testing facility in Australia, and better temperature mapping during testing. 

Nova Systems will support ANU with its space expertise, knowledge of qualification testing, and  Australian testing facilities. Nova Systems will also support the development of an online database of off-the-shelf tested parts.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) will ensure Australia is able to meet the international standard for Total Ionisation Dosage (TID) radiation testing. Their suite of irradiation capabilities will cover all levels of radiation testing so that Australian products can enter into global supply chains faster.

Steritech will offer large-scale radiation testing for the industry at locations in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

The University of Wollongong will develop laser-based screening to provide a low-cost service to the industry in preparation for full radiation testing and testing of sector-supplied off-the-shelf components.

Saber Astronautics will integrate qualification with the Mission Control Centre data and infrastructure standards, determining the appropriate space environment profiles for qualification testing.