Australia’s satellite construction, launch and traffic control industries have been given a significant boost towards building a sovereign space capability.
Gilmour Space this week won a $15 million contract to build a prototype surveillance satellite for the Department of Defence. A consortium of rocket builders and launchers, including Southern Launch, has secured a $5 million grant to develop a new research and development facility. And global space domain awareness specialist LeoLabs is expanding its presence in Adelaide.
And more space-based project announcements are set to come as the federal election campaign enters the final stretch.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced the Gilmour Space deal on Monday, emphasising the need to “assure our continued access to space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance”.
The Queensland-based manufacturer has been tasked with designing and building a prototype satellite and launching it using its own Eris rocket from an Australian launch site as early as next year.
The satellite will be built under its scalable design framework, the G-Class Satellite Bus (G-Sat). It’s a modular construction process involving 60cm cube sections designed for connectivity and compatibility with existing launch standards.
Gilmour Space says it hopes to establish a “new international satellite standard that is affordable and scalable in the same way as the 1U’s (CubeSats) but resulting in larger and more capable small satellites”.
It is currently expanding its 140-strong workforce to accommodate the project.
The federal government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) project has granted $4.95 million to Southern Launch, rocket manufacturer AT Space and Rocket Technologies International (RTI).
Part of the money will go towards establishing a new research hub in Adelaide. This will focus on the development of sub-orbital rocket technologies and systems.
Some will assist in the upgrade of RTI’s rocket testing facility in Queensland, as well as the construction of a new spaceport at Whalers Way in South Australia.
Other businesses to receive funding under the MMI include Adelaide-based satellite constructor Inovor Technologies. It will get $1 million to assist the expansion of its clean rooms and electronics labs to allow the assembly of larger spacecraft.
Command and control
As more Australian satellites are built and launched, space surveillance firms such as LeoLabs are rushing to meet the need to monitor what’s going on above our heads. Space Domain Awareness (SDA) has become big business. Especially in the increasingly crowded low Earth orbit (LEO) orbital highways.
LeoLabs plans to build a network of phased array space radars in Australia to capture precisely which satellite is where, where it’s headed and at what speed and altitude to detect any potentially deadly encounters.
One such radar is under construction near Bunbury in WA. It is expected to be operating by the end of this year.
“Our office in Lot Fourteen (Adelaide) is set to grow over the next two to three years as the company expands with new services and sensors,” says Australia managing director Terry van Haren. “Australia holds a highly valuable strategic location for space surveillance and for LeoLabs.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance journalist based in Adelaide.
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