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UniSA start-ups launch successful space balloon

Stephen Kuper

Two UniSA start-ups travelled to Petwood (south-east of Adelaide) to launch a one-storey aerial monitoring balloon, in a testing phase that will lead to a rocket launch in 2020.

UniSA start-ups launch successful space balloon
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Space robotics start-up Lux and satellite developer ResearchSat are both participating in Australia’s first space incubator program at the University of South Australia’s Innovation & Collaboration Centre (ICC).

The two space start-ups are taking part in the ICC’s Venture Catalyst Space program, helping to growing Australia’s space sector.

Lux is building autonomous atmospheric satellites equipped with cameras that capture and transmit high-resolution aerial images in real time.

ResearchSat is developing small-satellite payloads that can take microbiological experiments to space.

For the test launch, the team sent up a helium balloon to an altitude of 30km – three times higher than a commercial aircraft – for two hours, tracked it using GPS, then burst it, safely capturing its payload attached to a parachute.

Katrina Albert, co-founder of Lux, said the successful test launch gave them critical data to refine future launches.

“We are working with miners and engineers on what valuable data we can provide them with. We are already planning pilots with three local mines next year to launch space balloons on their sites,” Albert explained. 

Jibin Jeffrey Dhanaraj, aerospace engineer and chief technology officer of ResearchSat, said their device needed an external “shell” to carry out testing.

Dhanaraj added, “Our product is a subsystem of a CubeSat, so we needed an external ‘bus’ to test the functionality of the prototype and collect data. Lux’s space balloons were the perfect vehicle to make this happen. We now have enough data on our current technology ready for our major launch via rockets next year.”

Albert said being part of the Venture Catalyst Space program was very valuable to the company’s progress.

“In space, there are lots of technologies that feed into each other. For CubeSats to go into space, you need a launch platform, and our space balloons turned out to be the ideal vehicle. The university community has been a great help with connections and access to infrastructure for research purposes as well as expert mentors and advice.”

Both companies recently received awards at the GRAVITY Challenge event, with their innovative technologies helping to design and build solutions for real industry, social and environmental problems.

ICC associate director Jasmine Vreugdenburg said the ICC is the place for start-ups to receive the tools and support they need to progress towards commercialisation.

“The ICC is a place to grow and receive support and tools to build a successful company. We curate a community of like-minded people whose shared experience of success and failures benefits all involved. 

“It’s great to see the start-ups working together and supporting each other to test their technologies and implement learnings together,” Vreugdenburg added. 

Expressions of interest are open for the Venture Catalyst Space program, with formal applications opening in January.

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