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A brief history of Australian satellites (Part 2)

Here, we continue our look at Australia’s history of launching satellites.


QB-50 is a global space initiative involving 50 CubeSats from around the world that were deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2017. Three of the 50 Cubesats are Australian satellites called INSPIRE-2, UNSW-EC0 and SUSat. Despite each of them being no heavier than 2kg, they carry a lot of historical weight. They were the first Australian-built satellites to ever be deployed from the ISS — a major milestone for the Australian space industry.

The main aim of this initiative is to have the CubeSats explore and conduct research on the Earth’s lower thermosphere which hasn’t been studied much before. This is the three Australian CubeSats’ mission. The project is also designed to educate university students about space by inviting them to design these CubeSats that will additionally enhance their engineering skills. It hasn’t been an easy journey; after deployment, the three satellites were unresponsive and the teams on Earth had to scramble to find them. 


UNSW-ECO off to space. Credit: UNSWTV & Fairfax Media

This was one of the first of Australia’s three QB-50 CubeSats that were deployed from the ISS; it was deployed on 25th of May 2017. What’s interesting about UNSW-ECO is that its structure was 3D-printed! In addition to studying the composition of the thermosphere, one of its objectives was to test how such structure would function in space. They would also test how their unique GPS board, operating system, and their new methods for recovering from hardware upsets would work in space. The technical lead behind this satellite is Joon Wayn Cheong; he believes that “even with modest resources, Australians can be players in space industry and research.”


SUSat model. Credit: University of Adelaide

Designed and built at the University of Adelaide, SUSat was named after the Science Unit (SU), which is an instrument (INMS – Ion/Neutral Mass Spectrometer) that the CubeSat carried in order to sample the thermosphere around it. It was deployed on the 25 May 2017 but as of today, it’s the only one of the three Australian CubeSats that is no longer active. Nevertheless, it remains as something to be proud of — it was one of three Australian creations that got launched into space for the first time in 15 years!


INSPIRE-2 and the team who designed it. Credit: University of Sydney

INSPIRE-2, particularly, is special because it’s the product of a partnership between three Australian Universities: the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University and the University of Sydney. It is being operated by Australians as it completes its 8-12 month mission of exploring the thermosphere, which started on 26 May 2017 when it was deployed from the ISS. The fact that Australian students are getting excited about space, and have succeeded in building and launching satellites is a very promising sign for Australia as it escalates its involvement in outer space.


3D-printed 1/4 scale model of SkyHopper. Credit: SkyHopper

This CubeSat is equipped with a space telescope, which was conceived by the University of Melbourne and is now being built as a collaboration between groups and individuals across Australia, the United States and Europe. Its mission will be to look for new planets, including Earth-sized planets that have the potential to support life. It will also be investigating the Gamma Rays left behind by stars that died billions of years ago, which could uncover information about the early stages of the universe. SkyHopper is set to be launched in 2021.

That wraps up all the recent and upcoming Australian-made satellites (that we know of). 

Click here to read the first part of a brief history of Australian satellites.


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