How a 'shoebox' in space is shaping our future

The satellite was launched from NZ. (Rocket Lab)
The satellite was launched from NZ. (Rocket Lab)

This month, the UNSW Canberra Space team launched its third satellite, M2 Pathfinder. The satellite - about the size of a shoebox - is an important step forward not only for our team, but also the Australia's space industry.

The launch took place on Rocket Lab's "Don't Stop Me Now" mission from New Zealand's Mhia Peninsula on June 11.

M2 Pathfinder is a collaboration between UNSW Canberra Space researchers and engineers and the Royal Australian Air Force. It is the second of four cubesats to be flown in the program and follows the launch of M1 in late 2018. It was designed, assembled and extensively tested in just 10 months by Australia's largest and most experienced space team. This is an important mission for us as it will test homegrown communications architecture and other satellite technologies, which will assist in informing the future space capabilities of Australia.

Small, low-cost satellites like M2 Pathfinder provide a unique opportunity to support Australia's space capabilities, which will be so important in solving the challenges our world will face in the future.

Resource management, secure communications and data collection during extreme weather events and bushfires all depend on space infrastructure. As a nation, we have previously relied on other countries to provide this essential data, however we now have the expertise and technology to obtain this data independently. Australia has a role to play in solving these problems, both for our own economic security and as responsible global citizens. Shortly after the launch of M2 Pathfinder we were able to successfully communicate with the satellite. It is now orbiting Earth at 7.5 kilometres per second and commissioning of the various sub-systems on board has begun.

M2 Pathfinder will pave the way for our next mission with RAAF - M2. M2 is a twin-satellite mission with a pair of satellites equipped with advanced radios and telescopes to take the art of the possible one step further. Formation flying will play a major role in this mission with both satellites flying together and communicating with each other.

Now that Australia has a national space agency and we are making great strides in cubesat technology, we are ideally placed to expand the capabilities of the miniaturised satellite and are actively pushing this towards space systems with on-board artificial intelligence to better meet needs and opportunities on the ground.

It's an exciting time for Australia's space sector and UNSW Canberra Space looks forward to playing an integral role.

Professor Russell Boyce is the Director of UNSW Canberra Space.

This story A 'shoebox' in space helps shape our future first appeared on The Canberra Times.