CSIRO has announced that it will be extending its Earth observation capabilities by acquiring Australia’s first Cubesat designed to detect infrared light.
The new satellite, CSIROSat-1, will allow researchers from CSIRO and other institutions to ‘see’ features that can’t otherwise be seen using satellite imagery in the visible spectrum. It is expected to launch in 2020.
Other collaborators and research partners in the project include UNSW Canberra, ANU, and DST.
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.
Cubesats are miniaturised cube-shaped satellite units, with a single unit roughly 10 centimetres on each side. 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.
The $2 million project will be funded by CSIRO, a grant from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund, and in-kind support from industry partners.
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said CSIROSat-1 and the data infrastructure supporting it would add another level of capability to Australian science.
“Innovation happens at the intersection of people and disciplines - CSIRO’s strategy is to drive a deeper sharing of our world class infrastructure with the entire system,” Dr Marshall said. “Space itself is big and Australia is comparatively small - we have to work together to make our mark as a nation.
“Technology projects such as CSIROSat-1 will help support the Australian Space Agency’s goal of tripling the size of the domestic space sector to $10-12bn by 2030.”
Director of CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation Dr Alex Held said SA-based start-up Inovor Technologies will design, assemble and build CSIROSat-1.
“CSIRO is committed to collaborating and fostering relationships across the space sector, and with start-ups in particular,” Dr Held said.
“For the CSIROSat-1 project we’re excited to be working together with our build partner, Inovor Technologies.
“It’s critical to engage on these types of technology projects to support local capability and nurture the development of the Australian space industry.”
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.”
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.