Work & study
Gold Coast set for lift-off for a new generation of space satellites
Kathy Kruger | May 4, 2021
The Gold Coast is set to be Australia’s low earth orbit (LEO) satellite hub, with local company Gilmour Space partnering with Griffith University researchers in the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct to prototype and deploy Australia’s largest satellite for earth observation, from 2022.
As global demand accelerates for these next-generation satellites, the major research and education partnership will integrate new technologies in design, advanced materials and manufacturing, software and artificial intelligence – not to mention inspire a future generation of space dreamers.
With a twinkle in his eye, Professor Paulo de Souza, Head of Griffith University’s IT School and former CSIRO Chief Research Scientist, loves playing the role of dream maker.
Having worked as a young researcher for NASA to help develop a sensor used for two Mars Rover missions, Professor de Souza knows well the allure of space to inspire STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers.
And he’s excited to see the Gold Coast, and Griffith students, at the centre of building much-needed Australian space capability and jobs of the future.
“Aerospace capability is in deep need right here in Australia, for defence, disaster management and environmental observations,” he says.
“We are relying too much on a few companies and legacy systems for critical capability to keep Australia safe.
“This partnership will make a world of difference to the current landscape.”
Once the sole prevail of governments and their space agencies, a whole new world of commercial space opportunities is opening up, with Gilmour Space hoping to launch a constellation of LEO satellites into orbit with their pioneering single-port hybrid propulsion rocket engines, that will be significantly cheaper, greener and safer.
In 2016, the innovative venture-backed start-up, founded by brothers Adam and James Gilmour, launched Australia’s first privately-developed hybrid rocket, also reporting a world-first use of 3D printed rocket fuel.
In July they achieved one of the longest hybrid rocket engine test firings in the world: a 110-second mission duration burn of its upper stage engine, while also demonstrating manoeuvring capability that could be useful for surface landings on the Moon or Mars. And in September they secured their first Australian customer, seeking to launch a 35kg satellite on their maiden Eris rocket launch, Australia’s largest commercial payload announced to date.
With the major five-year Griffith University partnership, CEO Adam Gilmour says they’ll have access to the research and talent to take their ambitions to new heights, targeting 12 launches a year by 2025, and a stake in the $500 billion global space economy.
“This project is about demonstrating to Australia that we can build and launch a significant-sized satellite with significant capability,” he says.
“It’s also about working with local partners like Griffith to educate the next generation of space engineers who take us to orbit.”
Griffith graduates are already being employed at Gilmour, and a Space Tech Lab is currently being built at the Gold Coast campus, offering dedicated facilities for researchers and Gilmour staff to work collaboratively.
Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans says the partnership offers significant benefits.
“One of the most exciting elements will be the development of a prototype 100kg satellite for improved Earth observation by, for instance, utilising LEO satellites in disaster management applications, mining operations, thermal mapping of fires, reef and flood monitoring, land use and urban planning,” Professor Evans says.
We look forward to extending our internship arrangements and new opportunities for staff exchange. There are exciting chances to co-design inspirational industry-focused educational programs for students and professionals.”
Cutting-edge R&D will be led by researchers from the Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute (ADaPT) and the Institute for Integrated and Intelligent Systems (IIIS), developing components, sensors and IT systems for aerospace applications, including light-weight alloys, incorporated in on-board satellite IT systems for telecommunications, data processing and analysis, and spacecraft data and metadata management. R&D in sensing and imaging technologies will aim to integrate artificial intelligence in satellite systems.
Griffith will also join forces with Gilmour on a Collaborative Research Centre project (CRC-P) to develop composite rocket fuel tanks for low cost space transport. As the research partner in the CRC-P, the University will assist in the manufacture of lightweight fuel tanks up to two metres in diameter, as part of a consortium including Etamax Engineering and Northrop Grumman Australia Pty Limited.
Gilmour has previously signed agreements with the Australian Space Agency and the national Defence Science Technology agency to advance space ambitions.
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