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Space engineer wins DST award for liquid lens imager

A space engineer has won a prestigious government award for pioneering a liquid lens imaging system that will be used on an upcoming satellite mission.

Franke Agenbag’s invention will be utilised on the upcoming Buccaneer Main Mission project, which is designed to improve the accuracy of a key RAAF radar that monitors the northern and western approaches to Australia.

Her device incorporates a liquid lens, a mechanical arm, and a dual-surfaced mirror, which can be manually controlled to capture an array of perspectives of the satellite and its surroundings.

The mechanical arm is also retractable, meaning the system can be stowed safely during launch and while the satellite is in orbit.


“It’s also the first known example of liquid-lens imaging being prepared for launch on a satellite,” Agenbag said.

“Liquid lenses were not specifically designed for space, but they have considerable potential.”

Agenbag’s breakthrough led to her recently winning the Defence Science and Technology Group’s (DSTG) Innovation and Intrapreneurship in Government: Women in Innovation award.

“I definitely did not expect to take home the award. I am very proud that something I’m so passionate about is good enough to receive recognition,” she said.


The Buccaneer mission, meanwhile, is set to fly an advanced high-frequency receiver to help calibrate the RAAF’s Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN).

It consists of two missions jointly developed by UNSW Canberra Space and DST.

The first “Risk Mitigation Mission” was designed to test the technology. Launched in November 2017, it was hailed as a success within nine months.

An upcoming “Main Mission”, consisting of a single CubeSat manufactured by Adelaide-based Inovor Technologies will remain in space for 12 months.

It will fly through JORN’s pencil beam to ensure it is the correct shape when it hits the ionosphere, a part of Earth’s upper atmosphere that reflects and modifies radio waves used for communication.

Its aim is to help calibrate the radar and enhance its performance as a long-range threat detector. JORN is also used for a civilian purpose in detecting illegal entry of people, smuggling, and unlicenced fishing.

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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