About the project

An artist's impression of UNSW Canberra Space's successful M2 CubeSat demonstration mission

This database has been developed in an effort to support a final year project. The aim of this project was to create a single publicly accessible database that included a thorough data set and visual representations of datasets pertaining to each Australian-owned satellite.

This project firstly improved the existing data derived from previous work of Dr. Li Qiao and her 2022 conference paper ‘Australian Owned Satellites from 1967 to 2022: Results of initial surveys’. This project aims to improve existing data of Australian owned satellites through utilisation of Microsoft Power BI as a tool to visually transform this data into suitable graphs to best represent the data, such as bar graphs, and world maps. This is so the reader can easily perceive, interpret, and comprehend the published satellite data. There exists an Australian Government registry that does not contain accessible information for the general public. This is in relation to the sense that upon initial viewing of the data, members of the public cannot gain an insight into Australia’s satellite capability.

The public’s interest may relate to why the Government is investing a large portion of the federal budget towards sovereign capability, and thus this website will highlight such downfalls in Australia’s satellite capability that can justify this investment. This website contains information regarding to all previous and current Australian launched satellites. The use of visualisation will support the accessibility of the website, allowing the public to develop an analysis of the data displayed.

Additionally, this website aims to increase engagement through use of visually appealing and engaging representation of statistics will capture the attention of users to encourage them to explore the data further.

What is an Australian-Owned Satellite?

Based on the prevailing perception of ownership, an “Australian-owned satellite” refers to a satellite that is possessed and managed by an institution or organisation situated inside the geographical boundaries of Australia. In accordance with the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018, the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources maintains a systematic record of Australian launched space objects. This website aims to provide a definition of an Australian-owned satellite as one that is registered in Australia and adheres to Australian Laws and Regulations, as seen in the Space Act 2018. Additionally, a satellite is counted as an individual satellite depending on whether it has its own NORAD ID. This is an official sequential number assigned by United States Space Command in order of launch. Additionally, satellites launched as a single payload with other numerous satellites separating from the launch body will only count as a singular Australian satellite launch as it will have a single NORAD ID.

The Importance of Australian-Owned Satellites

Many Australians are unaware of how many satellites Australia owns and operates. There is currently enhanced Government, industry, and University commitment to growing Australia’s satellite capability. This is to diminish the reliance on other countries’ satellite fleets and promote the growth of Australia’s sovereign satellite capability through monetary investments and establishment of a national space mission.

Through transmitting signals to and from Earth, satellites play a pivotal part in daily life by enabling crucial services. The importance of these services includes providing navigation services, and weather forecasting. More notably, satellites enable communication through relaying broadcasting, television, and radio signals via communications links. For Australians, this means that people in rural areas such as farmer and miners can receive these systems in remote areas. Satellites also provide national security support through surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for Australia’s defence and national security agencies. The rapid pledge to grow Australia’s space capability can be seen through the establishment of Australia’s Space Agency in mid-2018 and the 2022-2023 Australian Federal budget’s establishment of Australia’s first-ever national space mission. The Morrison Government pledged $1.6 billion until 2038-2039 for a National Space Mission for Earth Observation (EO) (Price, 2022). The budget placed an onus on Australia to launch its own EO satellites to limit reliance on other Nation’s satellite services. The 2022-2023 budget comes after the Australian Civil Space Strategy (2019-2028), which encompassed the plan of the coalition Government’s investment in establishing the Australian Space Agency.

 The strategy includes several goals and objectives to drive growth in the industry, including supporting research and development, improving regulation, and developing a skilled workforce for the local space industry. The common theme between the budget and the Australian Civil Space strategy is the emphasis on developing sovereign Australian space capability. Australia has no EO satellites of its own, relying on other countries’ services, meaning Australia cannot monitor extreme weather events except through agencies in other countries (Evans, 2022). This is a critical service as Australia is frequently subject to bushfires and flooding. The Minister for Science and Technology, Melissa Price, stated that the first phase for the mission of EO, as outlined in the 2022-2023 budget, will see Australia design, build, and operate four new satellites, to create foundation of industry know-how for more complex space mission next decade. Government recognition of this has accentuated the need for Australia to develop its sovereign satellite capability and grow a highly skilled workforce in this area to attract investment and industry talent to Australia’s space industry.

Furthermore, in alignment with Australia’s National Space Mission for EO, a manufacturing hub will be established dedicated to EO satellites up to 500kg, with a $71 million dollar investment from NSW and Government funding (Nova Systems, 2023). This hub will enable research and development between industry, Universities, and Government, to design, prototype, manufacture, integrate, and test large satellites and payloads (Nova Systems, 2023). This hub will allow in house capability to be manufactured to support and facilitate the Government’s initiative for Earth Observation satellites. These pledges highlight Australia’s reliance on other countries’ EO satellites, and capability downfalls with Australia’s current satellite fleet. Upon increased media coverage and budget commitments, the public’s interest will become more present, and it is increasingly important for the Australian public to what their taxpayer money is funding. Drawing upon the conclusions of the literature review of this topic, launching a fleet of its own EO satellites is the principal necessity for Australia to develop its sovereign satellite capability.

This development is pertinent to the Government first and foremost, as well as Universities, and industry. Subsequently, this project aims to facilitate the Australian public’s interest in Australian-owned satellite capability through data visualisation to reflect insights into capability. This includes strengths, gaps, and trends in the data. This project aims to simplify the data through visualisation to allow the general public to form a clear and concise understanding of Australia’s current satellite capability.

Project Method

This project developed as an extension to previous work by Dr Lily Qiao, Senior lecturer of space systems and engineering at UNSW Canberra. Dr Qiao had developed an excel spreadsheet containing every Australian-owned satellite that had been launched. Additionally, this spreadsheet also contained 13 dataset columns pertaining to each satellite. Through the use of numerous sources expanded upon in the research method section below, columns 14-20 were then added to expand on the datasets pertaining to each Australian-owned satellite. This was to aid the aim of providing the bigger picture into Australian-owned satellite capability through trying to cover all relevant information for each satellite. Columns 17-20 were also added for the intended research into Australian owned satellite debris over the next decade.

Research Methods

The primary Australian satellite list that exists is by the Australian Space Agency, under the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources, developed in 2022. It has been established for those who are not subject matter experts, that tabulated lists does not reflect insight into the capability to a member of the public or reflect the pertinent functions of satellites to everyday life. This list contains information such as space object name, launch date, basic orbital parameters, and general function. Subsequently, five other existing satellite databases have been utilised for data collection in developing the Excel spreadsheet. It was found that some of the databases were more reputable than others upon cross-checking information with other sources, predominately due to a lack of regular updates of launches. Below are the other 5 databases used in conjunction to the register.

All these databases were collated to cross-check all information in the Excel spreadsheet numerous times. The Australian Government database was used as the main database as it is most likely to be current and correct in accordance with the 2018 Space (Launches and Returns) Act. The additional data collected was to facilitate the aim and scope to ensure the database created was more thorough to help portray a more accurate description of Australia’s satellite capability, such as by linking datasets where necessary to show causation effects.