A new sensor that will better identify and track satellites in orbit in order to ensure they remain in the correct orbit and avoid colliding is a step closer thanks to a new multi-partner project including UNSW Canberra and Clearbox Systems.

UNSW Canberra Space Director, Russell Boyce said the project, which has received funding under the latest Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grants, will see the University working with Australian SME’s on the development of new type of radio frequency sensor for Space Domain Awareness (SDA).

“A 20-fold increase in the number of satellites is anticipated within five years, creating risk for global satellite operators and market opportunities for service providers. This project will conduct proof of concept and pre-commercialisation activities for a new type of SDA sensor that makes use of Radio Frequency (RF) sensing technology to identify and track satellites in orbit,” he said.

The project will prepare a sensor product, commence development of a sensor network to generate data, and implement cyber security controls to protect the collected data.

“Australia is positioning itself as a world leader in its approach to SDA, which has been identified as one of civil space priorities as there is a real risk to assets and lives posed by collisions in space,” Professor Boyce said. 

Space Domain Awareness data is used to identify satellites which then helps to ensure they remain in the correct orbit and to avoid collisions.

Jeremy Hallett, Executive Director at Clearbox Systems, said that the team has identified a gap in the market that can be filled by the project’s proposed technique of using RF Sensing to detect the actual signals that satellites are transmitting to generate SDA data.

“We will be working closely with Bluerydge, an Australian cyber security SME who will address the data security necessary for the data collected and generated, and Capricorn Space, an Australian SME who will provide access to the signals necessary for sensor development from their Australian ground station network.

“This really is a collaborative project across key players in Australia’s space industry and I look forward to working with the team at UNSW Canberra,” Mr Hallett said.

Lead researcher Melrose Brown said another major goal of the project is to grow Australia’s human capital and skills base in the field of space domain awareness.

“In addition to the sensor development, the project will also see the outcomes incorporated into UNSW education programs.

“In order create an enduring research and industry legacy related to SDA, the project will undertake a number of educational activities including the support of postdoctoral researchers and industry placements. This is vital to securing the future of this work in Australia,” he said.