Saturday, July 17, 2010

Australian Space Research Program Round 2 Winners!

On the 14th of July, The Minister for Space (well, that's how I see him), Kim Carr, announced the Round 2 winners of the Australian Space Research Program.

Those winners are:

Stream A: Space Education and Development Grants

Project: Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program
Consortium: University of South Australia, International Space University
Grant: $475,658
Project Description: The project will develop an intensive five week summer program
conducted by the University of South Australia and the International Space
University. The program will provide inter-disciplinary knowledge and skills to
professionals, graduate researchers and senior undergraduate students, leading to
a graduate qualification or credit towards undergraduate programs. The program
will be available to Australian and international students over three summers and
will teach the key concepts and latest developments in:
- space science and technology
- space applications
- space business
- international and national space policy
- legal and regulatory issues
- space life sciences.

Stream B: Space Science and Innovation Projects

Project: GRACE Follow-on Mission
Consortium: The Australian National University, CSIRO, EOS Space Systems Pty Ltd, Jet Propulsion Laboratory,Californian Institute of Technology, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics(Albert Einstein Institute), National Measurement Institute
Grant: $4,673,001
Project description: The project will develop prototype hardware for a laser ranging system suitable to be flown on NASA’s GRACE Follow-on mission, scheduled for launch in 2016. The current GRACE mission (Gravity Recover and Climate Experiment) is an incredibly successful satellite mission that has provided new and unexpected insights into the natural process of the Earth, including for example, the ability to understand and predict the water balance across Australian catchments.
Along with the prototype hardware, the project will develop analysis capability in Australia to process raw observations from the mission. Importantly, it will develop new links between Australian institutions and international partners at the forefront of space-based instruments.

Project: Automated Laser Tracking of Space Debris
Consortium : EOS Space Systems Pty Ltd, Australian National University, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Near Space Systems Inc.
Grant: $4,040,355
Project description: Current space surveillance and tracking systems have relatively high levels of uncertainty in orbit predictions which can result in collisions between satellites and space debris. This project will demonstrate automated precision tracking of space debris to provide improved space situational awareness. The consortium will demonstrate fully remote and automated operation of a high performance laser tracking station, and provide an authoritative assessment of its ability to contribute to improved orbit determination of present and future surveillance of space systems. This project aims to develop an internationally competitive, commercially-viable, space surveillance industry built upon indigenous Australian technology.

Project: SAR Formation Flying
Consortium: University of New South Wales, BAE Systems Australia, Curtin University of Technology,
Delft University of Technology, General Dynamics, Astrium Limited
Grant: $4,664,583
Project description: This project will investigate synthetic aperture radar (SAR)satellites flying in small formations to significantly enhance real-time environmental monitoring. SAR satellites are unaffected by smoke, cloud, dust or volcanic ash which hamper optical earth observation). By simulating various formations of SAR satellites, this project will identify optimum orbits for monitoring over Australia and the region. The project will also develop the precision Global Navigation Satellite Systems relative positioning required to operate satellites in formation. Through this, the project will enable SAR to be used for a range of new applications such as timecritical disaster monitoring, environmental monitoring, climate change science and national security.

My Comments:
Firstly, a big congratulations to all. I hear that the grants process is very competitive, and clearly the high calibre of projects selected reflects that.

The Southern Hemispher Summer Space Program is a great step forward for the Australian Space Scene. The ISU is seen as the leading Space educational institution worldwide, and to have an annual program in Australia for the next 3 years at least is a massive boost. This will lead to many Australians educated in Space, as well as many space experts coming to Australia each year. I hear that the Uni of SA also plans a graduate certificate in Space Studies on the back of this as well. And they are doing it on such a small grant? What a great investment by the government.

The GRACE follow on mission - clearly the plan here is to position the team to actually build the flight hardware for the GRACE follow on mission. Mark this one down as something with a big future, and potentially real flight hardware on a NASA spacecraft. Some great international linkages here too.

The Automated Laser Tracking of Space Debris project, essentially gives some seed money to the boys at EOS to do what the do best. This is a great example of a niche area of technology in space that Australia is good at. I'd suggest in 5 years, we'll be exporting this one around the world.

The SAR Formation Flying project - this one was a bit of a surprise to me, from the standpoint that this technology is right at the cutting edge of things. Now I think SAR satellites and technologies have strong future in Australia, particularly in the defence arena, but SAR formation flying seems like the step that comes after we can handle the basic SAR capabilities. Regardless, I'm sure the team will develop those capabilities within this project. Some good linkages here too - I see with Astrium involved, I'm sure the European companies will take more interest in what's happening in Australia.

Overall, another great step for Australian Space. Four high class projects selected, and for only a small amount of government money! I must say, I can't believe how quickly things are happening in Australia now, and I hope this pace can keep getting quicker and quicker!

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