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SmartSat to lead $2m ‘roadside assistance in space’ research

SmartSat CRC is to lead a $2.3 million project to research technologies that will allow spacecraft to repair and service other satellites while in orbit.

In particular, the initiative will focus on improving the robotic arms that carry out the repairs and applying AI to aid performance in variable lighting conditions.

So-called ‘roadside assistance in space’ is becoming an increasing focus for space companies globally as businesses try to find new ways to increase the often-limited lifespan of satellites.

The new project will be led by 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,” said SmartSat.

“This project will address the gaps between autonomous robotic systems and the requirements of real-time, reliable close proximity operations.”

Funded by the federal government, SmartSat CRC is a collaboration between universities and research organisations that partner with industry.

Its CEO, Professor Andy Koronios, said research into ISAM technologies – In-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing – is critical for Australia to help its local industry join the emerging global supply chain.


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

“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.”

It comes after Space Connect reported last month how SmartSat agreed a deal to work with the New Zealand Space Agency.

It will now expand its scope to work with Kiwi organisations on projects including Earth observation, situational awareness, and optical communications to support space exploration.

The deal – signed in Wellington by the acting head of the New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) – comes alongside a commitment from the New Zealand government to support projects with NZ$6 million.

Enrico Palermo, head of Australia’s space agency, said the news reaffirms the two countries’ strong partnership.

“Space is a global endeavour, and by sharing knowledge and resources, we can create outcomes that benefit both our nations,” he said.

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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