Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Australia needs a Cubesat Competition and Prize

Australia needs to get back into orbit. In doing so, a new generation of engineers need to learn about the technology and science required to work in space, and all of the trials and tribulations that accompany such technology. Not wanting to state the obvious, but Australia is currently not capable of building the large satellites that we need for our Earth Observation, Telecommunications and Navigation requirements. But, before we give up on any future hope, we are perfectly capable of building nano and micro satellites. In fact, there are many different projects around the country that have undertaken early work in building such satellites, but none that have achieved launch or operations.

It is time that we get these projects into orbit.

Australia should undertake a cubesat satellite competition in an effort to get us back in the space game in a rapid time frame. The competition could involve Australian teams made up of education institutions, together with industry and perhaps even governement agencies.  

To win the Australian Cubesat competition, teams would have to develop, launch and operate a Cubesat form satellite - 1U, 2U or 3U. The satellite would have to make at least 10 orbits, and transmit data taken from within space (whether that be an image, a measurement of some scientific parameter, or something else) back to an Australian ground station. Whilst cubesats are not considered capable enough to be operational satellites, the data that is sent back should demonstrate a real-world concept of a Space Application that can directly benefit Australia.

The first team to achieve the 10 orbits and data back to earth would be awarded the Australian Cubesat First prize of AUD$1Million. The second team to achieve it would be awarded a prize of $500K, and the third team $250K. Overall, the whole competition would cost less than $2Million, and provide a great boost for the Australian Space industry - and likely get Australia back into orbit again, potentially in a big way if all 3 prizes are claimed. Given cubesats can be built and launched for $250K or less, all three prizes would be very attractive.

Prize money could be provided by the Australian Government Space Policy Unit, perhaps in conjunction with Australian Industry and Private Donors as sponsors. If no-one claims the prize, the money is safe. Prizes have been shown to provide 10 to 40 times the return on investment, so given the Australian Space Research Program relies on a funding matched model, a 10+ return on investment, with payout only upon success, provides a much better return for the Australian Government in stimulating industry.

The Australian Cubesat competition would likely create at least 3 flight proven satellite operations in Australia, and a series of teams and engineers that would be dedicated to both learning, and applying their skills in real world space applications. It would stimulate the Australian Space industry across a range of areas, and allow more complex and capable follow on missions to be envisaged that can address Australian issues using space technologies. It would also be an outstanding educational opportunity for many Australian Universities and even schools to get involved in, and would serve to inspire a young generation into maths, science and engineering fields.

I would love to hear feedback from everyone on such a prize - do you think its a good idea? how could it be improved?


  1. Given Australia's good relations with great space-nations like the US and Japan, do you think we should pursuit our own satellite strategy or piggyback (and contribute) on those nations?

  2. Hi Salaryman....

    I think we should go down both paths. For major programs, Australia will still need to work with its partners like the US, Japan and Europe, however it is really time that we start to develop our own capabilities.

  3. I would love to enter this - I am currently designing a cubesat that would have a great application for Australia and the world. I would have a good chance of getting it into orbit with a novel launch platform and the million dollars would cover all development with money left over. I will be building the cubesat in the near future and it will be a more advanced model of something already flying and working on board the ISS. I already know that it will work hundreds of times better than ISS model as i have spoken to its designer and he agrees that the modifications I propose will work. I am doing the preliminary design and essembling the right people for this work. A first class team.

    Yes, bring it on!