Western Australian researchers have made history by launching the state’s first locally designed and built satellite — the Binar-1 — into space over the weekend.
The Binar-1 was one of two Australian-made satellites (alongside the CUAVA-1) to be sent to the International Space Station onboard a SpaceX rocket on Sunday, marking a significant step forward for Australia’s space technology efforts.
While both launches are exciting for the country’s space program, the Binar-1 is particularly noteworthy as it marks the first time a Western Australian-made satellite has officially been launched. Phil Bland, the director of Curtin University’s Space Science Technology Centre, asserted that it won’t be the last time.
“You’re not succeeding in space unless you’re flying stuff, so we are building the technology that is going to allow us to fly all the time,” Bland told the ABC.
The satellite, which will work towards NASA’s Artemis mission to return to the moon, was developed by a group of 30 West Australians from Curtin University.
Although it is smaller than a loaf of bread, sitting at less than 10 cubic centimetres, that doesn’t mean the satellite isn’t powerful.
“Even in something that big we’ve actually got room for payload for the stuff that you actually want the satellite to do,” Bland said. “The core of it, it’s like the size of a vegemite sandwich … but that can actually power and control a much bigger spacecraft.
“So knowing how that works, validating that, we’ll be able to build much bigger stuff.”
The device’s small size also means the satellites are significantly easier and eventually cheaper to develop than traditional satellites.
“We are building the technology that is going to allow us to fly all the time, so we’ll be able to validate that, we’ll be able to test that out in orbit,” Bland told the ABC.
“But more than that, we’ll be able to offer payload space in all those spacecraft for anyone with a bridge idea in WA, whether that’s a high school or a university or a startup, to try it out.”
Project manager Ben Hartig is convinced we’ll be able to build 10 Binar satellites for the price of one internationally developed model.
“There’s a lot of activity in Australia right now and everyone’s very excited, but a large amount of that is still heavily dependent on foreign companies. That means we are sending money out of the country when we could be building jobs here,” he told The Australian. “With each launch we will be trying to build up more capability and more reliability, and we’re manufactured locally wherever possible so that we maintain the ability to keep making more of them.”
The Binar-1 is the first of at least seven small satellites that the team aims to launch over the next two years.
In the long term, the team in WA hopes to have a significant role in humanity’s next mission to the Moon and is aiming to have two locally developed spacecrafts as part of the trip, which is currently scheduled for 2025.
At a local level, the Binar team hopes to inspire West Australians to pursue careers in space technology.
“Growing up in WA, I’ve always been in the assumption that if I wanted to work in space, I had to be overseas,” PhD student Stuart Buchan, who was born and raised in the state, told the ABC.
“So being able to be working on my dream career in the state that I grew up in just feels amazing.”
The project is part of Australia’s long-term civil space strategy that aims to triple the size of the country’s space sector and contribution to the GDP to $12 billion, and grow an additional 20,000 jobs by 2030.