Melbourne-made nanosatellite blasting off in 2023

Thursday, 28 July, 2022

Melbourne-made nanosatellite blasting off in 2023

The SpIRIT spacecraft, the first selected for funding by the Australian Space Agency, has been booked with launch service provider ISISPACE to blast off on the Falcon 9 Transporter 8 rocket in April 2023.

The spacecraft is being designed and built by a consortium led by the Melbourne Space Laboratory at The University of Melbourne, with participation from Australian industry partners and the Italian Space Agency. It will operate in orbit for two years, demonstrating the long-term performance of Australian-made space technology.

Principal investigator Professor Michele Trenti said the signing of the launch contract was a critical milestone, which reflects the strong progress towards readiness for flight.

“The team has got to this point less than two years since selection of the mission for funding,” Trenti said.

“This demonstrates how a nanosatellite project can successfully combine best practices in project management and systems engineering, traditionally the preserve of larger missions, with the innate agility of a nanosatellite project.”

The Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT in short) is a small shoebox-sized nanosatellite (just 30 cm) during launch, but once in orbit it will deploy solar panels and thermal radiators stretching to nearly a metre long. It will run a suite of powerful scientific instruments, cameras, guidance systems, communication antennas, onboard computers with artificial intelligence capabilities and even its own electric propulsion thruster.

“It is truly a miniaturised spaceship,” Trenti said.

At only 11.5 kg, SpIRIT is too small to fly on a rocket on its own, so the team booked a ‘rideshare service through ISISPACE, one of the world’s most experienced launch service providers. ISISPACE will carefully package SpIRIT in a canister and integrate it into a ring hosting dozens of other small satellites, and then deliver the package to the US-based launch pad for a short ride to low Earth orbit (about 550 km above the surface).

The Australian Space Agency is injecting almost $4 million into this space science mission through its International Space Investment Initiative. Australian Space Agency Head Enrico Palermo said it was terrific to see such an important milestone reached.

“The Australian Space Agency is proud to back SpIRIT and I look forward to seeing it in orbit very soon, helping us to better understand the universe in which we live and gathering crucial flight heritage for Australian technology,” Palermo said.

SpIRIT is being developed by an Australia–Italy syndicate. In addition to The University of Melbourne, Sitael Australia, Inovor Technologies and Neumann Space are contributing to its innovative design and fabrication, with Nova Systems providing ground station support from the Nova Space Precinct. The main scientific instrument of the mission, contributed by the Italian Space Agency, is an advanced X-ray detector to discover gamma rays, some of the universe’s most powerful explosions.

Once in orbit, SpIRIT will commence its mission to demonstrate multiple made-in-Australia technological innovations, including the first flight of Inovor Technologies’ Apogee satellite platform and of the Neumann Space thruster. Deputy Principal Investigator Dr Airlie Chapman said SpIRIT is arguably the most ambitious civil space mission since the Federation satellite was launched almost 20 years ago.

“It represents an outstanding opportunity to gain highly valuable experience for contributing to future missions reaching the Moon and beyond, and to strengthen the Australian space sector,” Chapman said.

Pictured: Render image of the SpIRIT nanosatellite in orbit with solar arrays and radiators deployed. Image credit: Melbourne Space Laboratory.

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