In a modest building on the old Canberra Institute of Technology campus in Reid, the largest Australian-made payload is gathered to go out into space.
- Seven satellites made in Canberra are being prepared for launch on a SpaceX rocket next year
- Skykkraft’s CEO Mark Skidmore says that commercial space launch companies have reduced launch costs and given smaller companies the opportunity to enter space
- The satellites are designed to track airplanes to increase air safety
With antennas made of clipped metal bands in frames drilled in a workshop in Queanbeyan, the Canberra-based space service company Skykraft will launch seven small satellites weighing a total of 300 kg, in orbit aboard a SpaceX rocket in June next year.
Chief Engineer Doug Griffin said the payload was the first in a planned ‘satellite constellation’ of more than 200 spacecraft that would act as an air traffic control system to provide continuous coverage of aircraft across the globe.
“The moment a plane flies from Sydney, for example, to Los Angeles, as soon as it takes off, it has really good coverage with flight control, but once it crosses the Pacific, it kind of disappears off the radar,” Dr. said Griffin.
Despite restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduces the number of aircraft in the air, air traffic is expected to resume in the coming years.
Chief Innovation Officer Craig Benson said the goal of the system was to make air travel “safer, faster, cheaper and with fewer emissions.”
“Space is not really about ‘space’, it is about the earth,” said Dr. Benson.
“We’re also talking directly into the cockpit so pilots can talk on the same radio they use to taxi at Sydney Airport all the way across the Pacific to land in Los Angeles without having to enter black zones where they have to increase separation. and burns more fuel as a result. “
Commercial space companies create competition in the market
Former CEO of Civil Aviation Safety Authority and now Skykraft’s CEO, retired Air Vice Marshall Mark Skidmore said the recent drop in launch costs driven by increasing competition among commercial space launch companies has allowed smaller companies to put their technology into orbit testing.
“Actual launch costs are falling, and that’s making it so accessible to people like us,” said Air Vice Marshall Skidmore.
“We can actually talk to companies like SpaceX, with which we now have contracts directly.
Air Vice Marshall Skidmore said keeping the cost of satellites down was another important factor and that the company sought to reduce costs by selling extra space on board their spacecraft to other local space industry developers.
Demonstration payloads, including a test of a new propulsion system powered by the most important chemical found in mothballs, will be a trip with the spacecraft to be launched in 2022.
ANU project manager Professor Rod Boswell said that “it is a classic and beautiful” example of universities including the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and the Swinburne University of Technology working with students and industry to accelerate technology development.
We’re trying to make this connection between what the university does and the commercialization of the system and testing it in space into a bit of a ‘norm’, so people can see that if you do research at the university, you can get your product out. it can operate in a commercial sphere. “