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Australian Space Tech Projects Secure New Funding

Researchers in the University of Sydney’s School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, and the Australian Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis have received over A$ 800,000 for three collaborative space projects, under the federal government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative and the Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility Grants scheme.

The three separate grants have been jointly awarded to the researchers and partner organisations to develop and manufacture a low-cost, durable, liquid-fuelled rocket with high performance; to enhance robots’ navigation in space, and to allow the development of robotic sensors.

The Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Christian Porter said Australia has unique opportunities when it comes to space manufacturing. The Australian Space Agency Director stated that the Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility Grant recipients highlighted the breadth, depth and excellence of skills in the Australian civil space sector.

The projects funded are leading examples of Australia’s capabilities in developing space technologies, which will only continue to grow and expand into the future.

Commercial launch market propels high-performance rocket build 

Professor Simon Ringer will work with a metal parts manufacturer as the team set about revolutionising the space industry with a low-cost solution to mass-produce metal 3D printed rocket engines in Australia.

Professor Ringer said that of the many challenges that are present in the design and manufacture of spacecraft, undoubtedly, the most challenging system is the rocket engine. The sustained high temperatures, complex stress states and highly corrosive environments create extreme materials engineering challenges.

The CTO of the metal parts manufacturer said that they have developed a new way to manufacture rocket engines quickly with their advanced manufacturing process. The grant will allow the company to work with the University of Sydney to design, qualify and manufacture test flight-ready engines for the emerging industrial space market.

DINGO gives space-faring robots freedom to roam

An Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) team led by Professor Salah Sukkarieh will advance the intelligence of future moon and Mars resource mapping and soil sampling robots, giving robots the ability to adapt their paths and positions in real-time.

As part of the DINGO (Drilling, Inference, and Navigation for Geological Operations) project, the researchers will design and test AI machine learning algorithms and sampling tools to demonstrate adaptive and energy-efficient navigation. With this technology, a robot will be able to build intelligence over its path and adapt its plan in real-time.

These capabilities will initially be demonstrated on existing robots, such as the agricultural roaming Swagbot, with the ultimate aim of deploying algorithms and sampling systems on future lunar missions. They could potentially support the NASA Moon to Mars Program, via the Australian Space Agency.

DINGO will advance autonomous rover operations, allowing space robots to cleverly navigate terrains on the moon and Mars. Earth-based robotic systems cannot be deployed on the moon; the technology will teach robots to navigate complex atmospheric and terrestrial conditions. Autonomous robots and terrestrial exploration are gaining momentum.

Robotic sensors to aid NASA operations 

School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic space expert, Dr Xiaofeng Wu, will work with Australian AI and a robotics company on a space-borne robotic inspection and intervention project. The project will deliver next-generation technology for the future NASA mission to the moon and beyond.

The grant is part of a A$ 150 million program announced in 2020 to help local small-to-medium enterprises join the United States government’s Moon to Mars space exploration program.

The University of Sydney team will work with project lead Abyss to develop a robotic sensor and intervention manipulator to undertake asset inspection and repairs during space-borne operations such as satellites.

The project aims to apply the firm’s market-leading expertise in robotic inspection to the challenges of space and partnering with the University of Sydney provides an opportunity to develop high-value technology and services to the space industry.

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