Western Australia’s space sector: the sky is not the limit

The global space sector is growing at pace and Western Australia continues to hold its position as a key player in the industry.

Kim Moss by Kim Moss,

Since the 1960s Western Australia has attracted major space projects and forged strong links with international partners, including in the UK and Europe, due to our significant geographic advantages which include a southern hemisphere location and longitude, ideal weather, high air quality and radio silence conditions.

It is not just our location that attracts attention – WA is a world-leader in remote operations for use on-Earth and now works to adapt this expertise for remote operations on the Moon, Mars and beyond. Additionally, the State has a strong data analytics capability with applications for the agriculture, mining, defence, and energy sectors.

Most recently, it is WA’s universities which have been grabbing headlines with their developments in the sector. From developing Australian first CubeSats to setting world records for laser transmissions – here’s a recap of the impressive developments from recent months.

Curtin University’s Space Science Technology Centre: Binar Programme

Curtin’s Space Science Technology Centre (SSTC) has developed the Binar CubeSat, in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Tokyo-based startup Space BD. The Binar CubeSat will be the first integrated satellite bus to be fully designed and manufactured in Australia. Earlier this year, the SSTC confirmed that the planned launch schedule is on track and will see five Binar CubeSats enter low earth orbit in 2021-2022. The Binar CubeSats can be used for a range of applications including remote sensing, imaging, communications, and defence. Ongoing experiments and testing of their remote capabilities will be conducted once they are in orbit.

If all five launches are successful, they will be Australia’s first home grown constellation of satellites in space. The Binar CubeSat, therefore has the potential to become the most validated and flight proven Australian spacecraft, positioning WA as the national leader in the development and operation of active spacecraft.

To provide the power of collaboration and industry support, the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE) consortium, announced in February 2021, that it had signed an agreement with the Binar Space Programme.  

The University of Western Australia launches its International Space Centre

In January this year, UWA announced that it had launched its International Space Centre (ISC). UWA has been actively involved in space research and the development of space technologies, for over half a century. The ISC will now bring together an impressive multi-disciplinary team from across the UWA, comprised of more than 12 research nodes, 150 researchers and 20 PhD students who will collaborate across areas ranging from optical communications, astrophysics, health, agriculture, engineering, information technology, and even social studies. The focus for the ISC will be to develop space research capacity, create new education opportunities and enable engagement with industry and government.

An Optical Communications Ground Station For WA

UWA has recently announced, that it will be responsible for installing an optical communications station on the roof of its physics building. Unlike most current space communications that utilise radio waves for communication, this game-changing station will be capable of receiving secure, high-speed data transmissions via laser, from spacecraft anywhere between low-Earth orbit and the surface of the Moon. UWA’s Astrophotonics Group (part of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR)) will install this station together with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) and UK industry partner Goonhilly Earth Station. Although the ground station is expected to be operational early this year, it will only be open for business in late 2021. EQUS, has indicated that the optical communication station at UWA, has the potential to be the first in operation in the southern hemisphere!

Scientists from Western Australia and France set a world record

Our scientists from the ICRAR and the UWA set a world record for the most stable transmission of a laser signal through the atmosphere in January this year. Researchers from UWA and ICRAR teamed up with the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) and the French metrology lab Systèmes de Référence Temps-Espace (SYRTE) at Paris Observatory and used Australia’s ‘phase stabilisation’ technology with advanced self-guiding optical terminals. Together, these technologies allowed laser signals to be sent from one point to another without interference from the atmosphere.

The technology that enabled this breakthrough was originally developed to synchronise incoming signals for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project which will be built in Western Australia and South Africa.

About the Government of Western Australia’s London Office:

The Western Australian Government Office is based in London with responsibility across all of Europe and Israel. Western Australia already has a track record of international engagement, including with the UK and Europe, across the space sector. With further opportunities on the horizon, please get in touch with our team to hear more about how you can get involved.