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University of Melbourne’s SpIRIT satellite nears launch

The SpIRIT nanosatellite built by the University of Melbourne has passed tests to verify its performance and is now on its way to California for launch.

Once in orbit, the 11.5-kilogram device will deploy solar panels and thermal radiators to search for gamma rays – the elusive phenomenon created when stars die or collide.

The project is a unique collaboration with the Italian Space Agency, which has created the scientific instruments on board.


Professor Michele Trenti, the SpIRIT mission’s principal investigator, appeared on the Space Connect Podcast last year to discuss the project. You can listen to the episode above.

SpIRIT was originally due to launch in April but is now targeting a blast off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base on a Space X Falcon-9 rocket by the end of this year.

The Australian partners are Inovor Technologies, Neumann Space, Sitael Australia, and Nova Systems, while the Australian Space Agency supported the project with almost $7 million in grants.

“SpIRIT will be part of a network of six satellites looking for the elusive rays as part of the HERMES Scientific Pathfinder Constellation mission,” said the University of Melbourne.


“The mission will also test a University of Melbourne thermal control system that lets nanosatellites host sensitive instruments requiring precise temperature control that otherwise could only fly on satellites 10 times heavier.

“The 11.5-kilogram nano satellite uses the popular CubeSat design as its framework and is the first Australian-made scientific satellite in space since the 58-kilogram Federation microsatellite 21 years ago.

“The compact powerhouse will also carry cameras (including a selfie stick), guidance systems, an electric propulsion thruster, and computers.

“After its California launch, the team will then spend about four months testing and commissioning the satellite in the extreme conditions before full operations begin. SpIRIT is designed to work for about two years before returning to Earth to burn up on re-entry.

“Once in orbit, SpIRIT will commence its mission to demonstrate made-in-Australia technological innovations and to investigate the mysteries of the cosmos through international scientific cooperation.”

Professor Trenti said there is a growing role for big science in smaller craft.

“It will take time, but I’m looking forward to receiving images and scientific data back from SpIRIT,” he said.

“However, it is already an incredible achievement just to go through the full satellite development cycle.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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