A 2026 Indian mission will launch the largest Australian-made spacecraft into orbit, after a historic signing in Delhi. 

The details of the mission – Space MAITRI (Mission for Australia-India’s Technology, Research and Innovation) – was announced on Thursday following an agreement between Australia’s Space Machines Company and India’s NewSpace India Limited (NSIL). 

The agreement will see Space Machines Company’s second Optimus spacecraft, a 450 kg Orbital Servicing Vehicle, launched on NSIL's Small Satellite Launch Vehicle. It is the first dedicated launch agreement between Australia and India.

The mission will focus on debris management and sustainability and will significantly advance Australia’s domestic space industry, by combining Australian spacecraft capabilities with India's launch expertise.


New launchpad for Australian-Indian commercial space ties

Earlier this year, the Australian Government announced funding for three collaborative space projects, including $8.5 million for Space MAITRI. 

The announced projects were a part of the Australian Space Agency’s $18 million International Space Investment India (ISI) Projects program to strengthen the space economy for the two partner nations. 

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palermo, said the agreement is an important step towards enhancing Australia’s space heritage and strengthening the nation’s relationship with India.

“This formal agreement and mission will leverage our countries’ respective capabilities and unique strengths to make space activities more sustainable.”

“Like India, Australia’s commercial space sector is rapidly growing, and we are producing innovative space technologies that benefit life on Earth. The mission will inspire future explorers and further enhance international cooperation in this critical domain,” said Mr Palermo.

Last week, Mr Palermo hosted His Excellency Gopal Baglay, High Commissioner of India to Australia, Dr S Janakiraman, Consul General of India for Sydney, and other Indian representatives for a bilateral meeting at the Australian Space Agency’s Headquarters in Adelaide. The attendees emphasised the importance of strengthening bilateral ties and enhancing space capabilities.


Shared commitment to sustainable space operations

The Space MAITRI mission involves several Australian and Indian partner companies collaborating with Space Machines Company, including Digantara, Ananth Technologies, The University of Adelaide, The University of Sydney, The University of Technology Sydney, LeoLabs, Advanced Navigation, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“The Space MAITRI mission and our collaboration with NSIL represents a significant leap forward for Australia’s space industry. By combining our innovative spacecraft capabilities with India’s proven launch expertise, we are not only strengthening the ties between our nations’ space sectors but also demonstrating our shared commitment to sustainable space operations,” said Rajat Kulshrestha, CEO and Co-Founder of Space Machines Company.

India’s space sector is the fastest growing in the world, and is expected to grow by US$47.3 billion by 2032, and we continue to strengthen collaboration between our respective space industries across mutual priority areas.

Main image: An illustration of the Space Machines Company’s second Optimus spacecraft.

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