SpIRIT nanosatellite set to launch on the SpaceX Transporter 9 in late 2023

Following a comprehensive readiness review, the Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT) nanosatellite is now scheduled to launch on the SpaceX Transporter 9 in late 2023.

Once in orbit, SpIRIT will operate for two years demonstrating the long-term performance of Australian-made space technology.

Led by the University of Melbourne Space Laboratory, the SpIRIT Satellite project consists of a consortium of Australian industry partners and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Principal Investigator Professor Michele Trenti from the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne said the international collaboration is a great example of industry and academia working together.

"The SpIRIT mission is progressing well in its path to launch, and we are very excited to work with our partners in the upcoming stages of the project which will see all components of the satellite integrated and tested prior to delivery for launch,” Professor Trenti said.

Once in orbit, SpIRIT will deploy solar panels and thermal radiators to power a suite of scientific instruments including cameras, guidance systems, communication antennae, onboard computers with artificial intelligence capabilities, and the electric propulsion system.

Render of Spirit mission in orbit

Render of the SpIRIT mission in orbit

The Italian Space Agency has delivered the HERMES instrument, a mini x-ray telescope and S-band telemetry system which will help to detect and localise sources of gamma rays like newly-born black holes; once in orbit, it will also operate in conjunction with the HERMES small satellite constellation, in preparation in Italy. Preliminary integration tests of the instrument Flight Model into the SpIRIT service module were carried out in July 2022 at the Melbourne Space Laboratory.

The Australian Space Agency is injecting almost $4 million into the mission through its International Space Investment Initiative and Head of the Agency Enrico Palermo highlighted the mission’s significance as it progresses toward launch.

“We’re thrilled to see the great progress being made on this important space science mission which will help us to better understand the Universe so we can make our Earth a better place to live,” Mr Palermo said.

“This mission will expand the knowledge and skill that exists in our local space sector, as well as develop crucial flight heritage for Australian technology that has applications not just in space but across the spectrum of critical technology including artificial intelligence capabilities.

“The Australian Space Agency is proud to back SpIRIT and to help demonstrate what can be achieved when we collaborate with industry, academia and our international partners like the Italian Space Agency.”

Australian industry partner, Neumann Space, successfully completed pre-integration acceptance testing and review of its Neumann Drive®.  As a result, the electric propulsion system Flight Model has been delivered to the University of Melbourne for integration into the satellite bus.

An image of SpIRIT propulsion system

SpIRIT propulsion system Flight Model. Credit: Neumann Space

"Neumann Space has made great progress in the productisation of the Neumann Drive, and this first delivery for our product is one we are very proud of. We are continuing to move at pace in the delivery and integration of systems and are expecting our first international orders very soon,” Herve Astier, CEO of Neumann Space, said.

“This demonstrates the interest within the satellite industry for propulsion systems that are more efficient, safer and easier to integrate. Based on the market demand we are accelerating our manufacturing and commercialisation plans in 2023 and are excited to be a part of SpIRIT’s flight later this year to demonstrate and prove our technology in space.”

Australian industry partner Inovor Technologies has successfully designed, manufactured, tested and delivered the Apogee satellite platform Flight Model, ready for payload integration, with the Platform Acceptance Review being a success.

An image of the SpIRIT platform flight model

SpIRIT platform Flight Model. Credit: Inovor Technologies

“It’s great to be part of this Australian mission with international partners. Each time we build a satellite our process improves allowing us to manufacture and deliver this satellite in record time to meet the tight schedule. We look forward to getting on-orbit and having a successful mission,” Matthew Tetlow, Founder and CEO of Inovor Technologies, said.

Several additional early systems development tests have been conducted, mitigating key program risks, including UHF testing by industry partners Nova Systems and Inovor Technologies.

“We’ve enjoyed working with a dynamic team showcasing Australian capability and the ability of the team to work collaboratively on a National and International basis. We look forward to seeing the NAIGS (Nova Autonomous Intelligent Ground Station) system at our Nova Space Precinct supporting this innovative Australian project,” Andrew Mannix, Nova Systems Executive General Manager Mission Solutions, said.

The University of Melbourne is now finalising its payloads and is working with industry partner Sitael Australia on systems-level activities. Together, they are working towards the next major project milestone – satellite integration.

"SpIRIT is a complex satellite with many payloads and it is really rewarding to work collaboratively with all the project partners to bring the system testing activities together. We look forward to having the satellite successfully integrated and starting satellite testing,” Julia Mitchell, Executive Director and Technical Manager, Sitael Australia, said.

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Alexa Viani