SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (SmartSat) is backing research to develop end-to-end Australian capabilities in In-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM), in a project underwritten by a total investment of $2.3 million.
The new project, developing robotic satellite technologies to reliably connect with other satellites to perform in-orbit repairs and maintenance, will be led by SmartSat research partner, the University of Sydney, and supported by NSW-based industry partners Abyss Solutions, ANT61, Space Machines Company, Sperospace and Spiral Blue.
Servicing satellites in orbit is challenging due to harsh space conditions, potential risk of damaging expensive assets through collision during docking, and difficulties maintaining stability during maintenance.
The ISAM project aims to develop on-board automation for mission operations, advanced sensing for precise object detection, a relative navigation system for accurate detection and tracking, and reactionless control to stabilise the servicing satellite while the robotic manipulator is in operation.
“With the number of satellites and spacecraft in orbit increasing rapidly, there’s a greater likelihood of malfunctions and collisions," said Professor Andy Koronios, SmartSat CRC Chief Executive Officer.
“Being able to service and upgrade satellites in-situ, thereby extending their lifespans, will be a crucial capability for governments and the private sector alike. This project will develop key autonomy technologies needed by the Australian space industry to be competitive in the global ISAM business.”
The collective goal is to build and demonstrate on-ground an end-to-end software stack for these four autonomy technologies into a single working code repository suitable for deployment onto future satellites.
Industry partners involved in the project will work closely with the University of Sydney to integrate their technologies and demonstrate the feasibility of a future all-Australian satellite servicing mission.
Specialising in AI-based perception, Abyss Solutions focuses on autonomous inspections in challenging energy and marine environments, such as off-shore oil rigs; ANT61 on semi-autonomous control of dexterous robotic systems; Space Machines in spacecraft transportation and servicing; Sperospace in cold welding and large robotic manipulators; and Spiral Blue in edge computing hardware and application management software.
“Australia needs to start laying the groundwork now to compete in this vital and emerging US$14.3 billion market," said Dr Xiaofeng Wu, Senior Lecturer in Space Engineering at the University of Sydney.
"The University of Sydney is ideally positioned to play a leading role in establishing the country’s first integrated set of core capabilities for autonomous orbital robotics. This core capability set will enable Australian industry to undertake advanced, fit-for-purpose, autonomous robotic satellite missions to meet commercial, civil and defence needs."