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SmartSat CRC and NASA team up to collaborate on astronaut emergency communications

The Adelaide-based SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, (CRC) has announced a project agreement with NASA to further develop new Search and Rescue (SAR) beacon technologies. This will help assure the safety of astronauts in orbit and on the moon as part of the Artemis Moon to Mars program. The Artemis 1 mission launched successfully just a few days after the project agreement was announced.

Australia and the United States, as leaders in the field, have a long history of cooperation in SAR. In 2020 NASA and SmartSat announced a collaboration to advance satellite-based emergency communications and SAR, combining communications and navigation technology. This new project deepens the strategic collaboration in this important field.

The project is studying a new search and rescue system for future human exploration on the surface of the moon, known as LunaSAR. Astronaut safety is paramount and the ability to reliably communicate an emergency incident must be maintained, even if other services are not available.

Similar to distress beacons on Earth, this system will provide miniature low power radio beacons mounted on space suits and lunar rover vehicles. The technology will support SOS and two-way messaging over a lunar orbiting satellite constellation. It will also allow the beacon location to be accurately determined, in the absence of GPS.

This information will be provided securely and quickly to both the mission control centre on Earth and the response team on the moon who are able to take immediate action.

Under the agreement, NASA’s Search and Rescue Laboratory (SARLab) at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will bring experts to the project to help guide and review the technical direction. NASA will also provide access to unique and comprehensive test facilities for assessment of performance of the new technology as it is being developed by a SmartSat funded research team, led by industry partner and UniSA spinoff Safety from Space.

The research team will design a new specialised beacon for extraterrestrial environments based on a new waveform. As well as direct Artemis applications, they will also investigate the potential for enhanced services to extend beyond SAR to broader emergency management such as natural disaster warning systems.

Visiting Adelaide this month, the NASA Search and Rescue office Chief, Dr. Lisa Mazzuca, commented: “NASA is delighted to advance technology in this field, which will allow our astronauts exploring the Moon to do so knowing they have a system focused solely on their safety. This is pioneering work that takes such a dedicated international partnership to get to fruition.”

Dr. Mazzuca’s SAR team also has the full support and sponsorship of the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

SmartSat CEO Andy Koronios commented: “This agreement is not just a fantastic development for Safety from Space’s low-power, high-efficiency safety technology, it signals that Australia’s space sector is developing globally important technologies. NASA has been instrumental in the development journey for this essential safety technology – and while it is early stages, we now have the further potential of this Australian-developed tech playing an important role in Lunar and Martian exploration missions under the Artemis program.

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