February 28, 2024

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Building Australia’s Orbital Robotics Capabilities

Image Credits: SmartSat, Press Release

Australia’s foremost space research centre, SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (SmartSat), is spearheading innovative research aimed at cultivating end-to-end Australian capabilities in In-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) with a substantial investment totalling AU$ 2.3 million.

The pioneering project, underwritten by SmartSat, is dedicated to developing robotic satellite technologies designed to securely connect with other satellites for in-orbit repairs and maintenance. Led by the University of Sydney, a SmartSat research partner, and bolstered by a cohort of NSW-based industry partners, the project marks a significant advancement in addressing the complex challenges associated with servicing satellites in orbit.

In-orbit servicing presents numerous challenges, ranging from harsh space conditions to the potential risks of damaging expensive assets during docking manoeuvres. Moreover, maintaining stability during maintenance operations further compounds these challenges.

The ISAM project seeks to bridge the gap between autonomous robotic systems and the real-time, reliable close-proximity operations required for effective satellite servicing. A distinctive aspect of the project lies in its comprehensive approach, integrating all four key technology areas into one cohesive research endeavour to tackle the multifaceted challenges inherent in ISAM.

The ISAM project aims to address four critical areas of research:

  1. High-level, AI-driven onboard automation for mission operations, ensuring optimal performance of the servicing system in harsh space conditions.
  2. Advanced sensing technologies for precise far-field object detection and relative close-proximity navigation amidst challenging in-orbit lighting conditions.
  3. Development of a fault-tolerant relative navigation system capable of accurate detection and tracking despite variable lighting conditions, textureless backgrounds, and the small relative size of objects in space, all while operating within the constraints of limited hardware and computational resources.
  4. Implementation of a safe control strategy for reactionless control during robotic arm motion to stabilise the servicing satellite, thereby minimising the risk of damage to both spacecraft.

Professor Andy Koronios, Chief Executive Officer of SmartSat CRC, emphasised the critical nature of ISAM technologies for Australia’s burgeoning space industry. As the number of satellites and spacecraft in orbit continues to escalate, the likelihood of malfunctions and collisions rises proportionately. The ability to service and upgrade satellites in-situ holds immense significance for both governmental agencies and the private sector, potentially extending the lifespan of existing assets while bolstering overall operational efficiency.

The overarching goal of the ISAM project is to develop and demonstrate an end-to-end software stack encompassing the four advanced autonomy technologies. This unified code repository will serve as a foundational framework for deployment onto future satellites, thereby positioning Australia’s space industry competitively within the global ISAM arena.

Industry partners collaborating on the project will collaborate closely with the University of Sydney to integrate their respective technologies and demonstrate the feasibility of a future all-Australian satellite servicing mission.

Each partner brings unique expertise to the table: one partner specialised in AI-based perception for autonomous inspections in challenging environments, another excels in semi-autonomous control of robotic systems, a third partner specialises in spacecraft transportation and servicing, while a fourth focuses on cold welding and large robotic manipulators, and the fifth partner specialises in edge computing hardware and application management software.

Dr Xiaofeng Wu, Senior Lecturer in Space Engineering at the University of Sydney, stressed the strategic importance of developing foundational Australian ISAM capabilities. Such capabilities not only cater to Australia’s future sovereign needs but also equip local companies with cutting-edge technologies, providing them with a competitive edge in the global ISAM and broader space industry landscape.

Dr Wu asserts that Australia must lay the groundwork now to compete in the burgeoning US$ 14.3 billion ISAM market, positioning the University of Sydney as a pivotal player in establishing the country’s first integrated set of core capabilities for autonomous orbital robotics. These core capabilities will empower the Australian industry to undertake advanced, fit-for-purpose autonomous robotic satellite missions, catering to commercial, civil, and defence requirements alike.

PARTNER

Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

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CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

Since 1972, CTC has established itself as one of the country’s top IT solutions providers. With 50 years of experience, headed by an experienced management team and staffed by over 200 qualified IT professionals, we support organizations with integrated IT solutions expertise in Autonomous IT, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Well-known for our strengths in system integration and consultation, CTC Global proves to be the preferred IT outsourcing destination for organizations all over Singapore today.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATION

SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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