Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Australian Space Research Program Round 4 Winners Announced

The Australian Space Research Program round 4 winners have been announced on the 17th of June 2010 by the Minister for Space Kim Carr. Round 4 sees 3 different grants awarded, totalling $6.1 Million in funding. The announcement can be found here.

The first project entitled  "A Comprehensive Tertiary Education Program in Satellite Systems Engineering" sees the University of NSW team up with Thales Alenia Space France, Optus and the French Institut Superieur de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace.

Their project was awarded $675,173 as part of Stream A of the ASRP, and  includes the following description:

The project will develop and deliver a comprehensive, sustainable tertiary education program in satellite systems engineering comprising a two-year master’s qualification. The project is led by the University of New South Wales in collaboration with a world class consortium which includes Australia’s only satellite owner and operator, Optus, the multinational Thales Group, and France’s Institut Superieur de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace.
The developed program will be optimised for Australia’s strategic and commercial interests and deliver a ‘systems-wide’ understanding of satellite systems and their applications, from the space segment, to the ground operations, and the end users. International and local industry internships and student exchanges will be incorporated into the program to enhance the skills of graduates.

The second project entitled  " The Australian Plasma Thruster Project" sees ANU, teaming up the University of Surrey (UK), Astrium France, and local company Vipac. This project capitalises on the significant existing capability within the Plasma Research Laboratory at ANU.

Their project was awarded  $3,117,172 as part of Stream B of the ASRP, and  includes the following description:

The Australian Plasma Thruster project will aim to develop a spaceflight ready Australian  plasma thruster design based on the helicon double layer technology invented and developed  at the Australian National University.  If successful it will find a market in satellite propulsion systems, including for station-keeping, end-of-life satellite insertion into graveyard orbit, and ultimately for deep space missions.  

The project will also develop and build a large Space Simulation Facility (S2F) at the ANU’s  Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre at Mt Stromlo in the ACT.  The S2F will incorporate a thermal/vacuum test capability that will allow the final stage of development  and testing of the plasma thruster technology.  The facility will also be available for use by other Australian researchers and industry for testing purposes.

The third project entitled  " Greenhouse Gas Monitor" once again sees Vipac (who have done very well in Round 4), teaming up the University of Wollongong, Rosebank Engineering, ANU, the University of Melbourne and the Bureau of Meteorology. Could this be the start of the capability Australia needs to develop instruments and be part of a future international Remote Sensing or Meteorology program? I hope so!

Their project was awarded $2,346,928 as part of Stream B of the ASRP, and includes the following description:

The Greenhouse Gas Monitor project will develop an innovative sensor to measure greenhouse gases nationally and globally.  The project will tie the measurements to observations by satellites in order to provide global coverage.  Additionally it will develop modelling and analysis tools to interpret the data, thereby advancing scientific understanding of the carbon cycle and providing policy relevant information of sources and sinks of greenhouse gases.  
The improved information on the distribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere resulting from the project will mean better monitoring and management of the roles of agriculture, forestation and deforestation as CO2 sources and sinks, more reliable weather forecasts and more sensitive detection of climate change.  The project will also increase Australian capability in the design, build and test of advanced remote sensing instruments.   

"Space science is no longer about a race to the moon. Rather, it has the power and potential to help us address major issues that affect our quality of life like health care, food production and climate change," Senator Carr said at the announcement.

"Australia's space and engineering research is among the best in the world - Excellence in Research for Australia showed 85 per cent or more of the units assessed in the space sciences and related areas of engineering are world standard or above - and our space-related industries are growing."

Another great step forward for Australian space in my view - this time, with some interest coming out of the two main European Prime contractors in Astrium and Thales Alenia Space, as well as some funding going towards space hardware and components that could end up being part of an international program or global supply chain.

Well done to all who are winners this round, and commiserations to all of those who have been trying hard for the last 4 rounds to get involved. It is also worth congratulating the Space Policy Unit in Canberra who have been working hard to keep making the ASRP such a success.

It is with some hesitation that we see the round 4 announcement, as it is currently the last round of the ASRP funding, with no future funding or replacement program yet announced. Hopefully the upcoming National Space Policy will include a future for the ASRP, or something similar, to build upon the great gains already made by the ASRP.

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