25 Sep 2023
Research Update

New project seeks to further develop intelligent, robotic satellite systems

25 Sep 2023

SmartSat has recently approved a new project from the University of Sydney, Project P2.59 Technology Development for In-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing (ISAM). Led by the University of Sydney School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering (AMME), this project includes in-kind participation by a cluster of several robotics start-ups and scale-ups in the Sydney area, including Spiral Blue, Sperospace, Space Machines Company, ANT61 and Abyss Solutions. The goal of the research team is to develop an intelligent robotic satellite system, utilizing advanced onboard automation and artificial intelligence, as well as cutting-edge sensing and perception capabilities, in conjunction with robust control mechanisms.

This project will address some of the key challenges that come along with close proximity satellite operations, as well as docking and nearby inspection operations. Operating satellites in close proximity to one another is particularly challenging due to the harsh conditions of space, including extreme temperatures and the increasing amount of space junk, increasing the risk of damaging expensive assets. It requires advanced algorithms running in real-time in order to monitor the satellite, paired with system architecture with high reliability.

Diagram explaining satellite autonomy.

To address those challenges, the research team will focus on various aspects of the necessary on-board autonomy, advanced sensing, perception and robust control of robotic satellites. The research in this project will culminate in a ground-based ISAM mission demonstration of robotic satellite proximity operations, docking and an example maintenance task. This will bring together advanced research in different parts of the AMME school in an integrated demonstration of novel capabilities. This project is expected to advance technologies for extending the lifespan of Australia’s space assets and position Australia to compete in the emerging ISAM industry.

As space technologies become increasingly common, ISAM is emerging as a lucrative business within the space industry that has attracted significant investment from both government and the private sector. This project aims to develop foundational Australian capabilities in ISAM to meet our future sovereign needs, and ideally also to develop unique technologies that will give Australian industry with unique technical advantages.