Homemade satellites herald new age for Australian space industry

KIM LANDERS: Imagine if you could build a satellite in your backyard and then launch it into space.

Well, that's exactly what a West Australian man is doing and he's not the only one.

The do-it-yourself satellite industry is booming, as backyard inventors look for ways to boost Australia's presence in space.

Lucy Martin has more.

(Sound of a door opening)

STUART MCANDREW: Welcome to my shed. This where I'm building a satellite that I'm planning to get launched into space.

LUCY MARTIN: Stuart McAndrew is making history from a backyard in suburban Perth.

STUART MCANDREW: It's small Rubik's Sube-sized box and it's got a couple of tape measure wings that are actually the antennas.

So it's the first one of its kind made in Australia and it's designed to take photos of Australia.

LUCY MARTIN: The pocket-sized camera satellite is made from mostly off the shelf items - aluminium from the local hardware shop, a tape measure and electronics bought over the internet.

Mr McAndrew is one of a growing number of Australians turning to homemade space exploration in the absence of a national space agency.

STUART MCANDREW: We've been lagging behind in recent times.

We were one of the first countries to send an amateur satellite into space, and we dropped the ball.

The pocket cube gives us an opportunity to set that straight and it's going to hopefully inspire other people that they can continue on this path, build a bigger space industry for Australia.

LUCY MARTIN: Commercial satellites weigh hundreds or even thousands of kilos and cost millions of dollars to launch.

In comparison, nano satellites can be made for as little as a thousand dollars and weigh between one and ten kilos. Mr McAndrew's creation is even smaller.

But how on Earth do you get it into space?

Mr McAndrew says it takes a lot of planning and a very expensive taxi ride.

STUART MCANDREW: The actual launch cost for a pocket cube are around about $30,000.

So that's a little bit out of my reach.

LUCY MARTIN: Around 80 nano-sats were launched in 2013, 132 went up last year and it's estimated a further 500 will be in orbit by the end of this year.

Andrew Dempster is the head of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at the University of New South Wales.

ANDREW DEMPSTER: The industry at the moment is going through quite a period of radical change.

CubeSats are creating this idea that people describe as space 2.0.

People like Stuart, amateurs or universities like us, can get relatively cheap access to space.

LUCY MARTIN: Australia is the only OECD nation without a dedicated space agency.

Mr Dempster says that's a problem.

ANDREW DEMPSTER: For many years we've been receiving some of our data for free, our weather data we get from Japan and some of our remote sensing data we get from Europe and the US.

The problem we're going to have is that is going to come to an end.

Budgets are being restricted throughout the world.

We're going to be left with our trousers down if we don't have a way of providing the data that we've become addicted to.

LUCY MARTIN: The University of New South Wales is sending its own small satellites into space as part of a global project.

Mr Dempster is hoping such projects will encourage young Australians to study science and put space on the agenda for a new generation.

ANDREW DEMPSTER: If you want to get young kids interested in science and so on, things that do it for them are dinosaurs and space.

The emergence of cube-sats mean that we're actually able to get our students working on something that will be genuinely launched into space, which really does attract good quality students and very motivated people.

LUCY MARTIN: The expense and logistics of launching small satellites into space remains the biggest problem.

An Australian organisation called the delta-V space hub was formed last year to solve it.

Tim Parsons is the head of delta-V.

TIM PARSONS: There's no dedicated launcher for small spacecraft so typically we have to piggyback off larger space launchers.

And that sometimes means that you have to deliver your spacecraft up to a year before the launch and, you know, hope it doesn't go brown on the pad.

LUCY MARTIN: Delta-V is working with the New South Wales Government, universities and start-up companies to help people develop ideas and get their inventions into space.

TIM PARSONS: My first step is really just to fly a spacecraft that other people can put payloads onto, so essentially a rideshare model that's scaled, and by doing that first model we essentially unlock access to space.

LUCY MARTIN: Backyard inventor Stuart McAndrew will have to test his satellite and obtain a launch certificate from the Federal Government, which costs $10,000.

He wants the Commonwealth will ease those financial requirements in recognition of the industry's potential and he's hopeful of securing a place for his satellite onboard an Italian spacecraft, to launch late next year.

STUART MCANDREW: Space has always been seen as this pinnacle of engineering. It's not necessarily the case.

You know, I can't wait for the day to see the rocket, you know, launch into space with my satellite on board.

LUCY MARTIN: The Federal Government's Space Coordination Office has been contacted for comment.

KIM LANDERS: Lucy Martin reporting.

Source : http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2015/s4259384.htm

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