6 Feb 2024
Media Releases

SmartSat backs autonomous satellite technologies for Australian in-orbit servicing capabilities in $2.3milllion research effort

6 Feb 2024

SmartSat is backing innovative research to develop end-to-end Australian capabilities in In-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM), in a project underwritten by a total investment of $2.3million.  

The new project, developing robotic satellite technologies to reliably connect with other satellites to perform in-orbit repairs and maintenance, will be led by SmartSat research partner, the University of Sydney, and supported by NSW-based industry partners Abyss Solutions, ANT61, Space Machines Company, Sperospace and Spiral Blue.  

Servicing satellites in orbit is challenging due to harsh space conditions, potential risk of damaging expensive assets through collision during docking, and difficulties maintaining stability during maintenance. This project will address the gaps between autonomous robotic systems and the requirements of real-time, reliable close proximity operations. Uniquely, the project will bring all four key technology areas into one research project, ensuring an end-to-end approach to addressing these complex challenges.

The ISAM project will address these four areas of research:

  • High-level, AI-driven on-board automation for mission operations, ensuring real-time performance of the servicing system in harsh space conditions.
  • Fault-tolerant relative navigation system for accurate detection and tracking, despite variable lighting conditions, textureless background and small relative size of objects, in space with limited hardware and computational resources
  • Safe control strategy for reactionless control when the robotic arms are in motion to stabilise the servicing satellite while the robotic manipulator is in operation, avoiding damage to both spacecraft
  • Advanced sensing for precise far-field object detection and relative close-proximity navigation in challenging in-orbit lighting

SmartSat CRC Chief Executive Officer Professor Andy Koronios said research into ISAM technologies is critical for Australia to help our local industry join the emerging global supply chain in this increasingly important field.

“With the number of satellites and spacecraft in orbit increasing rapidly, there’s a greater likelihood of malfunctions and collisions.

“Being able to service and upgrade satellites in-situ, thereby extending their lifespans, will be a crucial capability for governments and the private sector alike. This project will develop key autonomy technologies needed by the Australian space industry to be competitive in the global ISAM business.”

Read the full media release here.