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Curtin University forms partnership to develop world-class space tracking system

Curtin University forms partnership to develop world class space tracking system

An announcement
made by Curtin University highlighted the FireOpal project, a research and
development partnership it has with Lockheed
Martin Space
that uses sensors to track satellites and space debris.
They will be harnessing the Desert Fireball Network technology that Curtin
University built.

Curtin University, in a research and
development partnership with Lockheed Martin Space, has innovatively harnessed
technology previously used to observe meteorite fireballs, and has applied it
to track satellites.

The system has the capacity to change the
way how space objects in orbit are being tracked. Even better is how it can be
done at a fraction of the cost of current technologies in place.

A range of sensors is being used by the FireOPAL
project to track satellites and space debris. This will ultimately provide a
persistent view of objects in orbit around the Earth. It can also act as an
early warning system of potential problems affecting satellites and their
interaction with the thousands of pieces of space debris.

This system is an adaptation of Curtin
University’s Desert Fireball Network meteorite tracking capability. 

Dr Phil
Bland led a team of students to build the digital, autonomous network called
the Desert Fireball Network (DFN). It is a distributed network of automated
observatories for tracking meteorite fireballs, re-entering space debris,
satellites and rocket launches.

It images meteors as they fall, accurately
measures their speed and direction, and uses this data to precisely calculate
their landing zones. DFN researchers then go out and recover the meteorites. By
making networked observations of the fireball scientists can triangulate its
trajectory, track the rock forward to where it lands, and back, to where it
came from in the solar system.

Lockheed Martin Space Managing Director for
Australia and New Zealand Mr Rod Drury said FireOPAL is an entirely Australian
innovation developed by Lockheed Martin and Curtin University that is set to be
expanded around the world.

He said, “This technology enables us to
track objects in space in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

He added, “We are trialling more space
situational awareness sensors and new capabilities to assess what is possible
and explore the advantages and challenges of combining data from different

Mr Drury explained, “This partnership with
Curtin University further demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s ongoing commitment to
collaborating with Australian researchers and industry to identify and develop advanced
technologies for the space domain.”

John Curtin Distinguished Professor Dr Phil
Bland, leader of the Desert Fireball Network at Curtin University, reinforced
the importance of partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin for
continuing to support, improve and potentially further develop Australia’s
niche space capabilities.

Professor Bland said, “FireOPAL is a great
example of how blue-sky space science projects can rapidly translate into real
benefits for Australian space industries and defence.”

He added, “FireOPAL has the potential to be
a disruptive technology in space situational awareness. We’re looking forward
to exploring that potential with Lockheed Martin.”

The joint research and development
partnership between Curtin University and Lockheed Martin Space was formally
announced at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in September 2017.

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