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Lot Fourteen space companies in team SpIRIT

23 June 2020

Major funding will allow researchers to build a small satellite. Image courtesy of University of Melbourne

Three space industry companies based at Lot Fourteen – Neumann Space, Inovor Technologies and SITAEL Australia - are part of a team awarded a $3.95 million grant from the Australian Space Agency to help develop cutting edge space capabilities in Australia.

The team is led by University of Melbourne’s Physics and Engineering Schools includes another South Australian company, Nova Systems with support from the Italian Space Agency and the United Kingdom Space Agency in an advisory role.

It will utilise the funding from the Australian Space Agency's International Space Investment: Expand Capability grant to build a small satellite – called SpIRIT – to be launched in space by 2022.

Space and defence is one of the high value, deep tech industry focus sectors at Lot Fourteen, also home of the Australian Space Agency and the SmartSat CRC, with the Australian Mission Control Centre and Space Discovery Centre set to open at the precinct in 2021.

Associate Professor Michele Trenti from the University of Melbourne’s School of Physics is the lead investigator of the Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT) satellite.

“SpIRIT will be very small – about the size of a shoe box – but powerful,” Associate Professor Trenti said. “It will carry innovative X-ray sensors, sophisticated on-board computers and radios, and even a miniaturised electric propulsion engine, so we could well say that we will be building a tiny robotic spaceship.

“It will be the first Australian-made spacecraft to host a foreign space agency payload, with an X-ray detector provided by the Italian Space Agency.”

Associate Professor Trenti said SpIRIT would demonstrate that Australian-made spacecraft are internationally competitive, opening new market opportunities.

"SpIRIT will not only benefit Australian industry, it will also contribute to some awesome scientific discoveries," Associate Professor Trenti said.

“SpIRIT will combine its X-ray observations with data from a constellation of six other European satellites to spot cosmic fireworks that can be produced when stars die or collide with each other.”

The SpIRIT mission will demonstrate innovative technological elements in the areas of thermal management, real-time communications and on-board autonomous decision capabilities that University of Melbourne researchers will use in future space telescope projects for both Earth and astronomical observations.

Dr Airlie Chapman, senior lecturer in mechatronics from Melbourne School of Engineering and co-investigator on the project, said SpIRIT would increase Australia's reputation in the global space sector, and contribute to training a highly capable future workforce.

“Building an innovative space-ready nanosatellite comes with unique challenges,” Dr Chapman said. “This project will help us apply engineering research to break new ground in nanosatellite design, manufacturing and operations, hopefully acting as a guide for Australian aerospace research in the future.”

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Jim McCluskey said the SpIRIT grant would generate wider benefits for Australian businesses and the next generation of space workforce, researchers and entrepreneurs.

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