Australia's place in space ...
When you think of countries with a presence in space, what comes to mind? America—sure. Russia—undoubtedly. Europe (representing European countries)—definitely. Japan—you betcha. Australia? Probably not.
But consider this … by the end of 2017 there were two new, active research satellites from Australian universities and government in space. These were Australia's first satellites in space for 16 years (before which we had just three), our first satellites launched from the International Space Station, and our first operating within a constellation (a group of satellites working together). For a country that doesn’t have its own space agency (yet) it’s a pretty big deal. What’s even more exciting is these satellites are part of a revolution in space research, technology and space-industry start-ups occurring across Australia today.
A vital part of this revolution is that the new Australian satellites are CubeSats: satellites about the size of a loaf of bread and weighing less than 3 kg, yet filled with advanced Australian payloads that would not be out of place in the standard 1 tonne satellites familiar to most people.
CubeSats follow standards that support the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts, dramatically lowering costs, reducing development times, and allowing scientists and entrepreneurs to focus on their scientific and commercial projects rather than on engineering the satellite. For instance, the direct cost for the CubeSat known as INSPIRE-2 is much less than half a million dollars and inception to delivery took under a year. These manageable costs and time scales are expected to help drive development of a sustainable Australian space capability that includes participants from research institutions, government and industry.
Similarly, more than 30 Australian ‘space’ start-up companies were formed in 2016, already raising over $15 million in funding. They are working with universities, government agencies and international companies on a wide range of projects, many of them relating to CubeSat technology such as launch capability, ground segment capability, refining CubeSat components and even developing a complete constellation of CubeSats.
The bourgeoning space industry, and Australia’s part in it, prompted the Australian Government in July 2017 to call for a review into our space capabilities and how we could expand them. That’s one small step for government, one giant leap for Australia’s place in space.