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SmartSat funds $2.3m project for Australian in-orbit satellite servicing
Wed, 7th Feb 2024

SmartSat, Australia's premier space research centre, is sponsoring a cutting-edge research project aimed at developing end-to-end Australian capacities in In-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM). This pioneering project, underwritten through an investment of $2.3 million, is intended to advance robotic satellite technologies that can safely and reliably interconnect with other satellites for in-orbit repairs and upkeep.

The project will be headed by the University of Sydney, one of SmartSat’s key research partners. NSW-based industry allies Abyss Solutions, ANT61, Space Machines Company, Sperospace, and Spiral Blue will provide formidable backing for the project. The venture deals with the intricate challenges presented by the harsh conditions of space, including risks posed by potential satellite collisions and issues maintaining stability during servicing tasks.

This strategic initiative aims to bridge the gaps between autonomous robotic systems and the demanding requirements of real-time, reliable, close-proximity operations. In doing so, the project will combine all four crucial technology areas within a single research project, offering a comprehensive solution to these complex issues.

SmartSat CEO, Professor Andy Koronios, underlines the importance of the ISAM technology research for Australia's emerging role in the global supply chain within this crucial field. With satellites and spacecraft increasingly crowding our orbit, the risk of glitches and collisions is growing. "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,” he added.

The overarching goal of the research project is to construct and demonstrate an end-to-end software stack integrating these four advanced autonomy technologies into a single working code repository, paving its deployment onto future satellites. The industry affiliates involved in the project will collaborate closely with the University of Sydney to incorporate their technologies and exhibit the practical possibility of a future all-Australian satellite servicing mission.

Dr Xiaofeng Wu, Senior Lecturer in Space Engineering at the University of Sydney, contends that creating foundational Australian ISAM capabilities will address Australia's future sovereign needs and furnish local firms with cutting-edge technologies, equipping them to achieve an edge in the global ISAM and broader space industry. He added, "Australia needs to start laying the groundwork now to compete in this vital and emerging US$14.3 billion market. 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.”