Image courtesy Sally Tsoutas, Western Sydney University

Researchers at Western Sydney University have received an International Space Investment (Expand Capability) Grant worth AUD$410,000 to establish an Australian-first multi-sensor space observatory in South Australia.

The 15-month space imaging project, led by Silentium Defence and involving the International Centre for Neuromorphic Systems (ICNS) at Western Sydney University, is funded by the Australian Space Agency.

The project combines the ground-breaking Astrosite Mobile Observatory – developed by a team of ICNS researchers – and the Silentium Defence MAVERICK S-series passive radar, both complementary Australian-developed space sensors.

A total of AUD$1.5 million in funding, announced by Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews, has been granted by the Australian Space Agency for the multi-sensor observatory project.

The new SA Space Observatory, the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, will combine sensing technologies as an enhanced space imaging technique and provide critical data for the Australian and international space industry.

ICNS director Professor Andre van Schaik says the use of innovative and complementary space imaging techniques could be the key to making space a safer place.

“The ICNS research team invented the Astrosite concept, which combines a mobile astronomical observatory with neuromorphic image sensors to provide unique capabilities for detecting and tracking low-earth orbit objects (LEOs) and space junk,” Professor van Schaik says.

The risk of collision between debris, satellites and spacecraft has become a serious concern for national and international space agencies as well as organisations with a commercial interest in space.

Professor van Schaik says the new development will shine a spotlight on the tens of thousands of man-made objects in orbit.

“We have developed a dynamic imaging system that runs faster, computes more efficiently, uses far less power and needs less data than ever before to effectively detect and track objects orbiting in space.”

Launched in February 2019 at the Avalon Airshow, the University’s Astrosite has been an example of world-leading research and development capability from the Western Sydney region.

Acting Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Denise Kirkpatrick says the project is yet another example of Western Sydney University’s impact-driven research that helps to solve real-world challenges.

“We are incredibly proud to showcase Western Sydney University’s research capability and expertise in neuromorphic systems to the world and, through our collaborative partnerships with government and the private sector, help drive the development of new cutting-edge technologies and high-tech industries for Australia,” Professor Kirkpatrick says.

International partner the Swedish Space Corporation will combine observations from its Northern Hemisphere location to complement Southern Hemisphere detections and assist with more effective, continuous object tracking across a wider arc of space.

Dr James Palmer, CEO of Silentium Defence, says the remote Southern Hemisphere location was strategically selected with local and international collaboration in mind.

“South Australia is the ideal location for an observatory of this kind as it is uniquely positioned on the cusp of one of the world’s few dark-sky reserves,” Dr Palmer says.

“To be able to provide that capability from Australia for the international space community using local skills and technology is an exciting step in defining our nation’s role in the fast-growing industry.”

Work is expected to commence on the observatory in September, with a target completion date of July 2021.

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