5 mins read 30 Aug 2021

WA launches first spacecraft into Orbit

Binar-1 is heading for the International Space Station following a successful launch on Sunday 29 August. The Western Australian Binar-1 CubeSat is set to pave the way for Australia’s first spacecraft to orbit the Moon.  

The Binar team looks on from Yagan Square, Perth as Binar-1 CubeSat launched on SpaceX Dragon from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA. Credit: Curtin University/Twitter.

It’s 3:14 pm on Sunday afternoon in Yagan Square, Perth. A crowd has gathered to look up at the big screen that dominates the square.  As Australia wraps up their weekend, across the world at Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX Dragon (CRS-23) crew prepares for a 3:14 am ET launch.   

Nerves back in Perth are frazzled. Originally scheduled for the previous day, the launch was aborted only minutes beforehand due to poor weather. The SpaceX Dragon’s cargo includes approximately 1,000 kilograms of science experiments and food resupply for the International Space Station (ISS). Part of that precious science cargo is Binar-1, Western Australia’s first spacecraft that is set to be deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) into low Earth orbit. 

Luckily, 3 am Florida weather conditions almost 24 hours later couldn’t have been better for a picture-perfect take-off for the SpaceX craft. This is the first of four Binar launches scheduled over the next 12 months which aims to culminate in the first Western Australian spacecraft to orbit the moon.

Professor Bland, Director at Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University, said the launch of Binar-1 was just the beginning, with greater goals on the horizon.

“The Binar Space Program has six more launches planned over the next 18 months. For context, in its history, our nation has only flown 15 Australian-built spacecraft. Our novel design allows us to make spacecraft affordable, and space accessible for WA innovators,” Professor Bland said.

The Binar (pronounced BIN-ah) Space Program is named for the Noongar word for fireball. It gives a nod to the Curtin team’s work developing the Desert Fireball Network to scan the skies for meteors allowing researchers to track and possibly even recover meteorites. 

The Binar-1 CubeSat is a small black cube, around the size of half a loaf of bread. The integrated bus design consolidates the critical spacecraft subsystems onto a single electronics board which minimises the space taken up by connectors leaving more room for mission payload. Binar-1 will be launched from the ISS into Earth’s lower orbit, its primary mission is to test that the satellite’s systems are working as expected following the intense vibrations experienced during launch. Tweaks and improvements from this mission will be integrated into the next releases.

Aiming for the moon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 3:14 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2021. It carries the Dragon spacecraft containing Binar-1 cubesat on its journey to the International Space Station. Credit: KSC/NASA

The Binar-1 CubeSat was designed, coded, and built by staff and students from Curtin University’s Space Science and Technology Centre (SSTC) in partnership with remote operations experts Fugro. The launch plan over the next 12 months will see three more missions - Launch two (Binar-2, Binar 3, and Binar 4) and Launch three (Binar-5, Binar 6, and Binar 7) both leading up to the final iteration, Binar Prospector. 

The Binar Prospector mission will consist of two 6U (six unit) lunar orbiters. The spacecraft will orbit the Moon and using a thermal IR imaging camera, and a magnetometer, gather a deeper understanding of the geology of the Moon, identify mineralization, and localised accessible ice deposits. The spacecraft will make low (20km) altitude passes over the lunar surface, delivering a magnetic survey ten times the current resolution.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said the Binar Space Program was leading WA’s journey into space and would deliver game-changing space capability across the nation.

“Curtin’s incredible work on the Binar satellites through our Space Science Technology Centre has put us in the driver’s seat to deliver real outcomes for the WA and Australian space industries,” Professor Hayne said. 

“It will also further advance Curtin’s goal of enriching WA’s economy and workforce, by linking the Binar Program with local industries and connecting them with a real pathway to the burgeoning space sector.

“The team has also developed an outstanding school outreach program to put space technology in the hands of students, giving them hands-on experience and real-world inspiration to generate the space workforce of the future right here in WA.”

Professor Bland said that having an Australian interplanetary-class platform would be a great enabler for future missions. 

“We will be able to control and command our missions from Perth through Fugro’s Australian Space Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Control Complex (SpAARC), which will use Binar CubeSats to test remote operation protocols on a spacecraft in orbit.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a WA-built spacecraft at the Moon by 2025. Space missions like that don’t just inspire, they also drive innovation. The launch of Binar-1 is our first real step towards that goal. Being able to build spacecraft affordably means that we can rapidly iterate technology, which is a key element in developing advanced systems for exploration, that then also benefits other industry sectors.”

Curtin’s Moon mission will also enable WA to build and operate Binar CubeSats, at scale, to support Defence, Science, Commercial and Civil space missions.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said the launch of Binar-1 would mark a major step forward for WA’s space sector.

“It is tremendously exciting to see first-hand the strong partnership between industry and academia that is putting WA in space,” Premier McGowan said.

“The launch of Binar-1 positions WA as a major player in Australia’s space sector, driving the diversification of its economy into a future-focused industry and creating a new, highly skilled workforce with capabilities that are easily transferrable between the space and other sectors, such as mining and resources”

Watch the launch