The groundbreaking Australian-made Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT) nanosatellite has arrived in California for launch in November.

SpIRIT is a joint industry mission led by the University of Melbourne and supported by the Australian Space Agency. It is a research mission and a major opportunity to raise Australia’s profile in modern satellite operations.

The satellite will launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base on SpaceX’s Transporter-9. After launching, it will undergo 4 months of testing and commissioning before showing its capabilities to the world. 

Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency, said the satellite is a showcase of Australian innovation and the maturity of the nation’s space industry. 

‘SpIRIT exemplifies the Australian space sector’s growing capability and readiness to collaborate with international partners,’ Mr Palermo said.

‘The Australian Space Agency is proud to back SpIRIT, and with new Australian technologies on board, this is an important demonstration of how we can contribute to international space programs.’

Professor Michele Trenti, SpIRIT Principal Investigator, said reaching the launch milestone is rewarding.

‘I’m looking forward to receiving images and scientific data back from SpIRIT … however, it is already an incredible achievement just to go through the full satellite development cycle,’ Professor Trenti said.

Professor Trenti said it is exciting to show Australian technology in a shoebox-sized package weighing just 11.5 kg. 

‘There is a growing role for big science in smaller craft … in understanding the universe or relaying information around the world, several small satellites can be more competitive than one big one,’ Professor Trenti said.

International collaboration

Alongside its Australian technology, SpIRIT will also be carrying payload for the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Its HERMES X-ray detector will scour the cosmos for black holes, by locating the high-energy gamma ray bursts linked to them.

Dr Teodoro Valente, President of the ASI, said Italy eagerly awaits the results from HERMES.

‘This cooperation with the University of Melbourne will enhance the global scientific return for the Italian community in investigating the highest energy phenomena of the universe,’ said Dr Valente.

‘We are excited to combine the data expected from HERMES on SpIRIT with those from twin instruments on the ASI HERMES CubeSat constellation, to be launched in the near future.’

Locals on board

The platform for SpIRIT is Inovor’s Apogee satellite bus – the first Australian-made turnkey satellite platform. Apogee features power, telemetry, attitude control, and spacecraft command and control systems in a modular structure. 

Inovor CEO Matthew Tetlow is proud to see Apogee’s maiden flight on an Australian mission. 

‘SpIRIT is a testament to Australia’s ability to wholly design, build, test and integrate satellites,’ Mr Tetlow said. 

‘As the Australian space industry continues to ascend, we are not just witnessing history – we are actively shaping it.’

Neumann Space, Inovor’s Adelaide-based neighbour, has equipped SpIRIT with Neumann Drive: a lightweight, high-efficiency solar-electric propulsion system. It uses solid metal as a fuel source and is scalable up to larger spacecraft.

Neumann Space CEO Herve Astier said the company is working towards capturing metal space debris in orbit to refuel the system.

‘Pioneering metal-based propulsion technology, the Neumann Drive contributes to in-orbit sustainability and paves the way for a future where our propulsion system can be refuelled in-situ from space debris,’ Mr Astier said. 

‘We’re delighted to be part of this mission, showcasing our propulsion system integrated into the Inovor platform.’

The University of Melbourne also has 3 innovations on board SpIRIT: an instrument temperature control system, an an autonomous low-latency communications module, and a payload management system.

Support on the ground

Once SpIRIT launches, Nova Systems will give ground segment support from its Autonomous Intelligent Ground Station System near Peterborough, South Australia.

Andrew Mannix, Executive General Manager Mission Solutions at Nova Systems, applauded the project’s joint effort.

‘It’s great to be part of a dynamic team showcasing Australian capability and the ability of the team to work collaboratively on a national and international basis,’ Mr Mannix said.

‘We look forward to seeing the Nova Autonomous Intelligent Ground Station system at our Nova Space Precinct supporting this innovative Australian project.’

Sitael Australia also brings its systems engineering expertise to round out the consortium.

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