The Melbourne Space Laboratory’s first satellite preparing for launch

The SpIRIT CubeSat, an innovative Australian and Italian nano-satellite, is on track to join the hunt for gamma ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the universe from 2023.

An image of what the SpIRIT CubeSat nano-satellite will look like. Image: supplied

The satellite is being designed and built by a consortium led by the Melbourne Space Laboratory with participation from Australian industry partners and the Italian Space Agency.

The lab, located in the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne, was officially opened by the Head of the Australian Space Agency and the Consul General of Italy.

The Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal (SpIRIT) satellite mission will contribute to cutting-edge research in high energy astrophysics, locating the source of gamma ray bursts, the universe’s most powerful explosions since the big bang.

Observations from shoebox-sized SpIRIT will be combined with observations from the six other satellites which are part of the HERMES Technology and Scientific Pathfinder constellation funded by the Italian Space Agency and the European Commission.

Head of the Melbourne Space Laboratory, Professor Michele Trenti, said the team is preparing to receive a HERMES mini x-ray telescope from the Italian Space Agency.

“SpIRIT will contribute to understand how stars end their lives, giving a glimpse in the first moments of cosmic explosions thanks to the unique microsecond time resolution of the HERMES instrument,” Professor Trenti said.

In 2020, the SpIRIT program was awarded a $4 million Australian Space Agency International Space Investment – Expand Capability grant from the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo said the SpIRIT program delivers against all the pillars of the Agency’s mission – international collaboration, national capacity building and inspiring the nation.

“This is the largest project we are supporting through our International Space Investment Initiative and we’re absolutely excited to see the great progress being made,” Mr Palermo said.

“This project is really important for our strategy because it develops capability, and it is developing the workforce as well. When we look at the companies involved, it’s really a national effort – doing something that’s never been done before.”

The University of Melbourne and the Italian Space Agency recently signed a Letter of Agreement for collaboration on the SpIRIT project.

Consul General of Italy in Melbourne, Ms Hanna Pappalardo, congratulated the team on their progress.

“Today we celebrate a milestone in the robust partnership between Italy and Australia in this strategic centre,” Ms Pappalardo said.

“Research in the space sector requires great dedication, interdisciplinary and international cooperation, as well as continuous technological development.

“I am sure the successful example of SpIRIT will be a gateway for future bilateral cooperation.”

SpIRIT Deputy Principal Investigator, Dr Airlie Chapman, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, is looking forward to the launch of SpIRIT.

“The SpIRIT satellite showcases Australia’s high-performance autonomous operations, communications, propulsion and thermal management capabilities, and will be the first Australian-made spacecraft to host an instrument from a foreign space agency – the HERMES telescope,” Dr Chapman said.

The SpIRIT team has received systems engineering support from Sitael Australia, the flight hardware was developed in partnership with Inovor Technologies and Neumann Space, and Nova Systems is contributing to the Ground Segment.