Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has announced that it would be extending its Earth observation capabilities by acquiring Australia’s first CubeSat designed to detect invisible infrared light. To be known as CSIROSat-1, the new satellite will allow researchers from CSIRO and other institutions to ‘see’ features that can’t otherwise be seen using satellite imagery in the visible spectrum.
Although the satellite is a pilot and relatively small, the data collected will be valuable for detecting land cover changes such as flooding events or deforestation, detecting bushfires through smoke, and studying cloud formation and the development of tropical cyclones, as well as many other applications.
Traditionally, satellites are about the size of a refrigerator, have long production and assembly schedules, and are expensive to develop and launch. CubeSats are miniaturised cube-shaped satellites units, with a single unit being 10cm by 10cm by 10cm. They are lower cost, faster to build and cheaper to launch than larger satellites. With these low barriers to entry, they are a cost-effective option for trialling new technology and space research in low Earth orbit.
In addition to enabling scientific research, CSIROSat-1 is a demonstration project, aimed at furthering development of the technology to support growth of Australia’s advanced manufacturing, imaging and data processing capabilities for small satellite systems.
Expected to be launched in 2020, the AU$2 million project will be funded by CSIRO, a grant from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund, and in-kind support from industry partners. Director of CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation Dr Alex Held said South Australia-based start-up Inovor Technologies would design, assemble and build CSIROSat-1.
As the only Australian company manufacturing satellites using a fully integrated Australian supply, they provided the added benefit of upskilling the local advanced manufacturing sector. CEO of Inovor Technologies Dr Matt Tetlow said CSIROSat-1 would be a ‘nanosatellite’ made up of three cubes, stacked one on top of the other, about the same size as a loaf of bread.
“CSIROSat-1 will carry a sensor with infrared imaging capability, the first time an Australian satellite has operated in this spectrum,” Dr Tetlow said. “In addition to collecting information about Earth, it will be a platform for developing advanced on-board data processing capabilities.”
Other collaborators and research partners in the project include the University of New South Wales – Canberra, the Australian National University, and Defence Science and Technology Group. Data derived from CSIROSat-1 will complement that collected by NovaSAR-1, a new radar satellite in which CSIRO has a 10 per cent tasking and data acquisition share.
The use of Earth observation data for services such as remote asset management, and environmental monitoring and management, was one of the growth opportunities outlined for Australia in our recently published report; Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia.
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