Australian-built satellites launched into space

The first satellites built in Australia in the past 15 years have been launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the International Space Station, where they will be deployed into space.

The space simulator at The Australian National University's Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre tested and qualified the three tiny satellites called CubeSats to operate in space.

One of the lead Australian researchers, Professor Christine Charles, said the launch of the satellites was a significant moment for the Australian space industry.

"The space race is being radically changed by the disruptive nano-satellite technology, particularly the emergence of CubeSats built from cubes 10 centimetres per side," said Professor Charles, who leads the Space Plasma Power and Propulsion Division in the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

She said the three Australian CubeSats will monitor terrestrial weather, which is between 90 and 400 kilometres above Earth.

"The terrestrial layer of the atmosphere has never been monitored by satellites," Professor Charles said.

"The terrestrial atmosphere is affected by space weather and it greatly affects GPS and other communications data, which are vital to the modern human way of life."

The three Australian CubeSats have been developed by researchers at ANU, the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. The satellites are part of the European Union’s QB50 program launch of 50 satellites.

Professor Charles said ANU provided essential parts for one of the CubeSats called INSPIRE-2, including the power, communications and satellite attitude control systems.

"ANU has developed its own ground station to download scientific data and monitor the satellite's operation in orbit," she said.

Professor Charles also designed a plasma wind tunnel to calibrate the QB50 miniaturised Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometers mounted on 12 of the 38 CubeSats sent to the International Space Station.

"These instruments will provide essential data on the Earth’s thermosphere and play a major role in our understanding of space and terrestrial weather," Professor Charles said.

"ANU researchers and our collaborators are really excited that we are entering a new era in scientific research – one that will allow students and universities to contribute to the dream of space exploration. It’s one small step for CubeSats, but a giant leap for Australian science."


Professor Christine Charles
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Updated:  21 December 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Director, RSPE/ Page Contact:  Physics Webmaster