In a landmark launch today, the Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT) satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, USA.
The mission is a collaborative industry satellite, supported by the Australian Space Agency through an investment of almost AU$7 million. It is also the first Australian satellite to carry a foreign space agency's payload as its main scientific instrument — namely the the Italian Space Agency's HERMES X-ray detector.
“SpIRIT exemplifies the Australian space sector’s growing capability in intelligent spacecraft design and manufacture, and its readiness to collaborate with international partners,” says Head of the Agency, Enrico Palermo.
“The SpIRIT mission demonstrates Australia’s ability to support scientific space missions that improve the understanding of our universe, while advancing critical technology expertise in areas such as advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence.”
SpIRIT was developed by a consortium led by the University of Melbourne and the Italian Space Agency, comprising Inovor Technologies, Neumann Space, SITAEL Australia and Nova Systems, as well as the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, the University of Tuebingen, and their partners for the HERMES payload development.
The shoebox-sized satellite weighing just 11.5 kilograms was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-9 mission.
Now, over 550km above Earth, the satellite will deploy solar panels and thermal radiators nearly one metre long. The panels will power scientific instruments, cameras (including a selfie stick), guidance systems, communication antennae, onboard computers with artificial intelligence capabilities, and an electric propulsion system.
“This launch is an incredible milestone for the Australian space industry. SpIRIT is one of the most sophisticated nanosatellites in the world, with the potential to contribute exciting information about the universe and complement areas of investigation traditionally carried out by much larger satellites,” says University of Melbourne’s Professor Michele Trenti who is the SpIRIT mission's Principal Investigator.
SpIRIT is the first of seven nanosatellites as part of the Italian Space Agency's (ASI) HERMES Scientific Pathfinder Constellation. The agency's HERMES X-ray detector, which is carried by SpIRIT, will scour the cosmos for black holes by locating the high-energy gamma ray bursts linked to them.
Delighted by the success, Italian Space Agency President Dr Teodoro Valente says “we are grateful for this opportunity, which has allowed the first of our HERMES detectors to be deployed in orbit. It will collect useful scientific data and we expect to learn a lot during its operations. Go SpIRIT!”
Australian-made SpIRIT prepares for launch
Learn more about SpIRIT from the University of Melbourne team leading the mission.
Hover over, or click, the video below to play it.