Moon landing 50th anniversary with CSIRO: Down under ready to find its space in the firmament

CELESTIAL TECHNOLOGY: An artist's impression of CSIROsat-1 in space to be launched next year. Picture: CSIRO

CELESTIAL TECHNOLOGY: An artist's impression of CSIROsat-1 in space to be launched next year. Picture: CSIRO

One day mid-next year an Australian-made piece of engineering will become the newest 'star' in the sky.

The 30-centimetre, five-kilogram package is a tiny satellite - a 'CubeSat' - called CSIROsat-1, and it's an example of how the space industry is changing.

CSIROsat-1 will take less than two years to build and cost around a million dollars, a fraction of the time and cost of traditional satellites.

An onboard infrared imager will detect bushfires and monitor soil moisture and crop growth.

Building CSIROsat-1 is giving CSIRO and its partners - Adelaide start-up Inovor Technologies and UNSW Canberra - experience in designing hardware and electronics for space.

Space services are critical to our economy.

Today GPS (the global positioning system) not only helps you get from A to B but also ties together the financial system, transportation and electricity grids, while hundreds of satellites keep tabs on the world's climate, weather, ocean health and agricultural systems.

CubeSats represent a move away from expensive, long-lived satellites to ones that are short-lived but cheaper to build and launch.

With the growth in space-based services and satellite data comes opportunities to provide support services including ground stations, robotics and automation, data calibration, high-performance computing and commercial launch facilities.

An example is NASA's plan to launch sub-orbital rockets from Australia in 2020, to take measurements and run experiments, a sign of the growing interest in launching from our region. NASA will work with an Australian-based company, Equatorial Launch Australia on a commercial launch site.

The Australian Space Agency was created in 2018 to help Australia play a larger role in the global space industry.

It aims to "triple the size of the space industry in Australia from $3.9 billion to $12 billion by 2030 and create up to another 20,000 jobs," agency Deputy Head Anthony Murfett said.

"We've engaged with industry to identify where they see investment opportunities."

The agency is also looking at ways to encourage the transfer of technologies from other sectors into the space sector.

"How do we take some of the automation technology that we have, in areas such as our mining sector, and apply that to space?" Mr Murfett said.

As well as growing the industry in Australia, the Space Agency is also engaging with international partners.

"We held our first civil space dialogue with the US in late 2018 to explore where Australia and the US can work together," Mr Murfett said.

CSIRO has space-related capabilities across a range of areas and will provide technical advice to the Australian Space Agency.

It is also furthering the Agency's aims by running an R&D program in space technologies and supporting space-related startups.

  • One Giant Leap is a joint initiative with CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.