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Satellite testing launches

17 June 2016
Cheap satellites just a handful of centimetres in diameter will provide new data about relatively nearby atmospheres.

Three small Australian cube-sized satellites will be launched from the International Space Station to research new regions that could impact technology used on Earth, with the University of Sydney leading development of one of the CubeSats, undergoing testing in Canberra this week. 

Professor Iver Cairns tests the satellite communications system in Canberra this week.

University of Sydney graduate Jiro Funamoto with Professor Iver Cairns (right) testing the satellite communications system in Canberra. 

Researchers from around Australia have begun testing satellites at space testing facilities in Canberra in preparation for a mass satellite launch from the International Space Station later this year.

Three powerful but inexpensive CubeSats – satellites 20cm in length – have been developed by researchers at the University of Sydney, ANU, UNSW, the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. They will be launched into space as part of the European Union’s QB50 launch of 50 satellites.

Before liftoff, the satellites will undergo rigorous tests in the ANU space simulator at the ANU Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre (AITC) at Mount Stromlo to ensure they are space ready.

The European Union QB50 program has 27 countries building satellites for the mass launch from the International Space Station, including China, US, Brazil, Russia and Australia.

The University of Sydney has been coordinating efforts for one of the three Australian CubeSats being developed in collaboration with ANU and UNSW. This CubeSat carries an impressive payload of Australian-designed instruments, said the leader of the collaboration, Professor Iver Cairns, from University of Sydney.

“The first three Australian CubeSats in space will be doing research with significant public good. For example, they are looking at space weather and solar activity, which are important for vital systems such as GPS, financial systems and electricity grids,” Professor Cairns said.

CubeSats are emerging as a space industry standard design for low-cost space research. Originally conceived for student projects, more than 100 CubeSats have now been launched around the Earth and even around Mars.

The CubeSat carries radiation counters, a GPS receiver, a photonic spectrograph, and a new probe to measure the ionosphere, which was developed in collaboration with UK and Norwegian scientists.

Professor Cairns said at the official launch of the testing efforts in Canberra yesterday the CubeSat effort marked were a number of firsts for the Australian teams, which worked together in a close and constructive collaboration.

“We expect our three spacecraft to be the first Australian satellites launched from the International Space Station, the first three Australian CubeSats in orbit, and only Australia’s 4th, 5th, and 6th Australian-built satellites in orbit,” Professor Cairns said. 

“They are also the first Australian satellites to undergo comprehensive vibration and thermal vacuum testing at AITC and we are delighted to be part of this event.”

Professor Cairns from the School of Physics heads the University of Sydney's SpaceNet research collaboration

Vivienne Reiner

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