Australian satellite launch successful but what else is in store for local space industry?

Cosmos Space correspondent Jamie Seidel looks at what’s in store for the burgeoning space industries in 2023.

In Part 1 he looks at The Australian Space sector.

Tomorrow Jamie looks at what the international space sector is hoping to achieve

The space year is off to a flying start with five Australian-made satellites launched this week, all functioning as expected.

“This month’s successful launch of Skykraft’s satellite stack on a SpaceX rocket is a strong signal of what’s to come for Australian space in 2023,” says Australian Space Agency Chief Technology Officer Aude Vignelles.

The five Australian-built satellites have settled into their orbits after being launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Falcon 9 booster on January 4. It’s success in a year that will see Australia’s space industry transition from aspiration to actualisation.

In 2023, private enterprise is stepping out into space in a big way.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning the first spacewalk by a private company. But a slew of new rocket designs is lining up to compete with his surprisingly successful array.

The Moon is also in business. More than a dozen private and national missions are headed its way.

It’s a trend the Australian Space Agency is keen to capitalise on.

“This year, we need to look to partner beyond space in its pure sense to boost our economic resilience, generate jobs and be at the forefront of technology shifts,” Vignelles told Cosmos. “We also need to keep our focus on being an active participant in NASA’s Artemis ambitions; seeking opportunities to contribute more Australian infrastructure and unique innovations to support this new era of lunar exploration.”

Also in Cosmos: local space startups bursting at the seams

Australia’s largest satellite constellation is now active. Canberra-based Skykraft is building a network of 200 satellites to monitor every corner of the Earth for air traffic control. It launched five satellites on January 4, and has announced all are working as planned.

“It means that in outback Australia or in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, pilots will have exactly the same access to air traffic control systems as they would if they were close to Canberra Airport,” chief executive Michael Frater said at the launch.

It also makes mysterious events – such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH-370 – far less likely to remain unexplained.

“Australia’s space industry is scaling, and the Skykraft satellite stack – and other locally developed technology – demonstrate the home-grown space innovations we can offer the world,” says Vignelles.

Australia’s not only about satellites, though. Its first orbit-capable rocket is slated for launch in April.

The Eris, developed by Gilmour Space, is a 23m tall booster weighing 30 tonnes. Its five rockets burn a mix of solid fuel and a liquid oxidiser to generate 115 kilonewtons of thrust (one newton is the energy needed to accelerate 1kg at about 1m per second).

It’s the first booster to use such a hybrid-fuel concept.

While capable of carrying a 305kg satellite into space, Eris is a testbed for a much larger design. Gilmour’s goal is to boost a 1000kg payload into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) aboard a bigger version of the rocket from sites such as the Bowen Launch Facility in northern Queensland.

April is also the earliest expected date for the Australian Space Agency’s SpIRIT satellite to be placed in orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT) is a 30cm long, 11.5kg nanosatellite that will deploy solar panels and thermal radiators once in orbit. It carries a variety of “proof of concept” experimental technologies such as an x-ray camera, guidance systems, communications and AI.

It will also be fitted with a Neumann Space metal-ion thruster.

“It is truly a miniaturised spaceship,” project leader Professor Michele Trenti of the University of Melbourne said.

And South Australia’s first satellite, Kanyini, is also due to be launched within the next few months. The joint project between Myriota, Inovor Technologies, the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, and the South Australian Government, will contribute to a low-power space-based “Internet of Thing” (IoT) communication system and provide hyperspectral imaging of the state’s environment and infrastructure.

“The success of these Australian technologies is central to our nation proving our capability to bring new opportunities for our sector,” says Vignelles.

Tomorrow: The international space year.

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