4 mins read 23 Jun 2020

SpIRIT of Australia Set To Launch By 2022

Australia is set to grow its capabilities and reputation in the global space sector, as SpIRIT gets the funding required for launch.

The SpIRIT small satellite will be built by the University of Melbourne in collaboration with a number of Australian space industry companies and the Italian Space Agency. Credit: University of Melbourne

In an Australian first, researchers at the University of Melbourne have been awarded a $3.95 million grant to develop and build a small satellite that will host a foreign space agency payload – a project that will help grow Australia’s capabilities in designing, building and operating Small Satellite missions, and increase our reputation in the global space sector.

The University of Melbourne will be partnered by Siatel Australia, the local division of the largest privately-owned Italian space company, and by Australian-based space companies Inovor Technologies, Neumann Space, and Nova Systems. They will also be supported by the Italian and United Kingdom Space Agencies.

The grant is just one from a total of AUD 11 million that has been awarded to Australian companies as part of the International Space Investment Expand Capability program, and is expected to unlock international space opportunities for the Australian space sector, expand the capability and capacity of the Australian space sector, and demonstrate the Australian space sector’s ability to successfully deliver space-related products and services internationally.

The collaborating partners in SpIRIT. The Italian and United Kingdom Space Agencies will also provide support. Credit: University of Melbourne

Lead investigator in the program from Melbourne University’s School of Physics is Associate Professor Michele Trenti. Along with co-investigator Dr Airlie Chapman, a senior lecturer from the School of Engineering, the university will be building a small satellite known as SpIRIT – the Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal satellite.

“SpIRIT will be very small – about the size of a shoe box – but powerful,” Associate Professor Trenti said.  “It will carry innovative X-ray sensors, sophisticated on-board computers and radios, and even a miniaturised electric propulsion engine, so we could well say that we will be building a tiny robotic spaceship.”

The X-ray detector carried onboard SpIRIT will be provided by the Italian Space Agency, as both Italy and Australia capitalise on the increasingly strong partnership between their two Space Agencies. Executive Director and General Manager of Siatel Australia, Mark Ramsey, commented that “the SpIRIT project will further bring together already close friends in Australia and Italy, and in particular deliver cooperation in the Space domain”.

The Italian Space Agency has previously developed X-ray monitoring satellites with AGILE – Astro‐Rivelatore Gamma a Immagini Leggero – launched into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organisation in 2007, and BeppoSAX – named after Giuseppe “Beppo” Occhialini – back in 1996. Australia's first locally-made satellite in space was in 1968 when WRESAT – Weapons Research Establishment Satellite – launched from Woomera in South Australia.

That is set to change by 2022, the timeline laid down for the launch of SpIRIT. The success of SpIRIT will also represent a substantial step towards the ultimate success of Australia’s first space telescope, Skyhopper, the construction of which has already begun at the University of Melbourne.

SpIRIT at a Glance

  • Mission to design, develop, and launch a 9kg 6U CubeSat by 2022
  • One main payload for advanced x-ray remote sensing – the HERMES instrument, developed with funding by the Italian Space Agency (HERMES Technological Pathfinder) and by the European Commission H2020 framework (HERMES Scientific Pathfinder)
  • Three innovative products to be space qualified for IP generation: TheMIS (thermal management integrated system), Mercury (adaptive autonomous low-latency communication module), Neumann Thruster (high efficiency electric propulsion)
  • Two-year operations in-orbit to demonstrate the long-term performance of Australian-made hardware
  • Demonstration of operation centre capable of receiving operations requests, applying user priority levels, and making rapid, autonomous decisions about tasking of antennas and satellites
  • Hands-on workforce training activities for secondary to graduate students to mentor and inspire future space leaders.