5 mins read 19 Mar 2021

Space Agency Awards First Moon To Mars Program Initiatives

The first two Australian companies are set to receive their funding grants through the Australian Government and Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Initiative.

Artist impression of a space station orbiting near the Moon. Credit: NASA.

The Australian Government and Australian Space Agency this week awarded the first two recipients of the Moon to Mars initiative with over \$1 million in grants that will help boost each companies’ capabilities to deliver products and services to NASA’s Moon to Mars program.

Spiral Blue and Advanced Navigation and Q-CTRL, both based in NSW, will receive the funding under the Australian Government’s Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability program that was announced in 2020, with both organisations utilising the funding to further advance their work.

This includes further developments in software and computing for data processing onboard CubeSats, as well as building the world’s first inertial navigation system to be used in future space missions.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews stated these were the first batches of funds to be delivered to Australian companies, as part of the $150 million Moon to Mars initiative. 

“These grants are about expanding and supporting our domestic capabilities in the space sector while helping Australian companies be part of NASA’s grand ambition to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon to prepare for missions to Mars.

“Today’s funding announcement showcases two Aussie companies leading the way in space infrastructure and onboard spacecraft navigation. These grants will help boost investment in the manufacturing sector, build Australia’s reputation as a manufacturer of choice, create new skilled Australian jobs and grow our economy.

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palmero, also stated the importance of this week’s announcement, showcasing that the program being delivered through the Agency was now starting to award companies from the Australian space industry.

“The two successful projects showcase the talent and ingenuity in Australia’s space sector and increase the involvement and value add of local technology in national and international space supply chains,” Mr Palermo said.

“Congratulations to Spiral Blue and Advanced Navigation and Q-CTRL for leading projects that will contribute to the development of national capability and help to build a high-tech workforce that can make a significant contribution to the national economy, while positioning Australia as a key player in the global space community.” 

Spiral Blue - Observing Earth Efficiently

Artist illustration of SatRevolution’s SW1FT satellite in orbit. Credit: Spiral Blue.

Spiral Blue will receive just over $416,000 to further develop their Space Edge software that is utilised by satellites that orbit the Earth and look down, capturing images of the planet for numerous purposes, such as natural disaster management, military usage, weather predictions and science.

To obtain better data for all these different objectives, satellite and instrumentation manufacturers continually try and achieve higher resolutions of imaging from space – getting down to levels of clarity that can resolve objects or detail that is metres or centimetres big. However, this presents a new challenge – with higher resolution comes higher image file size, which then requires a solution to transmitting such large data files from space back to Earth.

The company’s Space Edge onboard computer is said to revolutionise these Earth Observation capabilities through its ability to process images in the satellite itself (i.e. in orbit), thus reducing the image file size before transmitting it down to Earth.

This enables a much more efficient method of utilising satellite transmission bandwidth, as well as satellite observation ‘up-time’ windows.

Spiral Blue was planning on testing their software and onboard computer this year, with the prototype aboard the Polish space manufacturer SatRevolution’s SW1FT satellite – a 3-unit CubeSat that features a high-resolution (6-metre RGB) optical payload to image the Earth from orbit.

Advanced Navigation and Q-CTRL – Space Navigating

Credit: University of Arizona.

Advanced Navigation and Q-CTRL will receive almost $700,000 to build out a world-first inertial navigation system for space missions, which is said to be able to ensure orientation, positioning and navigation of any spacecraft’s mission into deep space (i.e., the Moon or planets) – including human-based missions of the future.

Inertial navigation systems use onboard computers, motion-sensing devices, gyroscopes and more to continually calculate their trajectories and velocities, without the need for external references. This is particularly handy for space-based travel because, unlike the Earth where services like GPS assist our everyday lives, in space, this does not exist for spacecraft.  

Recently, Q-CTRL also announced that they are partnering with the Australian CubeSat lunar mission to the Moon, known as Seven Sisters, providing quantum computing sensing and navigation technology that will allow the small satellites to detect liquid water and mineral deposits through in-situ resource observations of the Lunar surface.

Advanced Navigation, a Sydney-based company that specialises in navigation hardware that utilises artificial intelligence announced in mid-2020 that they were forming a research and development partnership with Q-CTRL, a Quantum computing start-up, also based in Sydney.