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SpIRIT satellite mission launched

The University of Melbourne and the Italian Space Agency have successfully launched the SpIRIT nanosatellite mission, supported by the Australian Space Agency.

The Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal nanosatellite (SpIRIT) was placed into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and has entered a sun-synchronous polar orbit 513km above Earth.

Demonstrating Australia’s growing reputation in the global space sector, SpIRIT is the first Australian satellite to carry a foreign space agency’s scientific instrument as its main payload, namely the Italian Space Agency’s HERMES X-ray detector. The HERMES X-ray detector is designed to search for bursts of gamma rays, which are created when stars die or collide and for a moment emit more energy than an entire galaxy.

SpIRIT is the first of a network of seven nanosatellites called the HERMES Scientific Pathfinder Constellation that are looking for these cosmic fireworks.

The SpIRIT nanosatellite was developed by a consortium led by the University of Melbourne and the Italian Space Agency, comprising Adelaide-based Inovor Technologies, Neumann Space, Sitael Australia, and Nova Systems in Australia, as well as the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, the University of Tuebingen, and their partners for the HERMES payload development. The Australian Space Agency supported the project with almost $7 million in grants.

After initial checks and communication with the Nova Systems ground station in Peterborough, South Australia, in the coming weeks the 11.5kg nanosatellite will deploy solar panels and thermal radiators nearly one metre long.

The SpIRIT design is based on a standard format 6U CubeSat of approximately 30 × 20 × 10 cm with deployable structures folded down. Australia products will be flight qualified for IP generation, including the Neumann Space Thruster, a novel electric propulsion system based on solid metal propellants; and the University of Melbourne Thermal Management Integrated System (TheMIS) for precision temperature control of sensitive instrumentation that lets nanosatellites host sensitive instruments requiring precise temperature control that otherwise could only fly on satellites ten times heavier.

The satellite is also carrying the University of Melbourne Mercury module for adaptive autonomous low-latency communications; and the University of Melbourne Payload Management System, designed to facilitate integration of complex instrumentation in off-the-shelf satellite platforms, and to reliably control their operations and carry out advanced data processing on-board.

SpIRIT is one of the first spacecraft built and integrated on Inovor’s Apogee platform. It is designed to fly in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for two years in a Sun-synchronous polar orbit, where the satellite travels from north to south over the poles and is tuned so it always faces the sun at a similar angle. The team will spend about four months testing and commissioning the nanosatellite in the extreme conditions of space before scientific operations can begin.

The nanosatellite will then transition to a full operational phase to investigate the mysteries of the cosmos through international scientific cooperation, and to measure the long-term performance of Australian-made space technology.

When its mission is complete, SpIRIT will be placed in a safe mode and burn up on re-entry into the atmosphere.

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