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Australian-built defence small satellites to takeoff next year

Federal minister for defence industry Christopher Pyne will this morning announce a $9.96 million contract for three Cubesat satellites to be launched into low-earth orbit starting next year.

The satellites will be developed by UNSW Canberra for the Royal Australian Air Force and will be used for maritime surveillance. UNSW Canberra will design and build the three spacecraft for two missions: the first to lift-off in early 2018 and a second in 2019. Director of UNSW Canberra Space Russell Boyce said the spacecraft will be capable of gathering remote sensing information and can serve many ground-based needs.

 “Because they have re-programmable software defined radios on board, we can change their purpose on the fly during the mission, which greatly improves the spacecraft's functional capabilities for multiple use by Defence,” Boyce said.

He said the space missions would also deliver research and educational outcomes for Defence and civilian students studying at UNSW Canberra. UNSW Canberra rector Michael Frater said the space program aimed to leverage the university's core strengths in satellite and sensor R&D.

“UNSW Canberra has invested significantly to build a very large world-class team of space scientists and engineers. We are very excited about the future of space in Australia and want to have a leading role in the industry, both through education and research,” Frater said.

The university will formally announce the satellites at announcements in Canberra and at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide this morning. It caps off a busy week for UNSW Canberra, which also announced a partnership with Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, the French space agency, for satellite design, and another agreement to utilise spacecraft test facilities at ANU’s Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre. Geoff Long, Commsday