The SpIRIT (Space Industry – Responsive – Intelligent – Thermal) nano-satellite is an Australia-Italy mission supported in Australia by the Australian Space Agency’s International Space Investment – Expand Capability scheme.
SpIRIT aims to grow Australian space industry capabilities through the development of an innovative nano-satellite which will break new ground in high-performance autonomous operations, communications, propulsion and thermal management. SpIRIT will also be the first made-in-Australia spacecraft to host a foreign space agency’s scientific instrument as its main payload, showcasing the competitiveness of Australia’s space industry, and growing international cooperation in astronomy and space science with the Italian Space Agency.
The SpIRIT design is based on a standard format (6U CubeSat) with ∼ 11.5 kg mass and linear dimensions of approximately 30 × 20 × 10 cm when stowed in the launch dispenser, which will stretch to almost one meter once in orbit due to deployable structures.
The SpIRIT mission started in July 2020, passing the Preliminary Design Review in December 2020 and the Critical Design Review in May 2021. The flight hardware fabrication was completed in June 2022, and the satellite has been booked for a launch in April 2023.
Following the launch into orbit, SpIRIT will first undergo commissioning of the satellite platform and all its payloads, followed by 20 months of main mission operations, spending at least two years in space. SpIRIT operations will demonstrate the long-term performance of Australian-made hardware, and – through the Italian Space Agency’s HERMES instrument – contribute to the identification and characterisation of Gamma Ray Bursts, powerful cosmic explosions resulting from the death or collision between stars, that for a brief moment emit more energy than a whole galaxy.
- A high-performance Australian-designed and made spacecraft platform (Apogee satellite bus by Inovor Technologies), capable of competing with international suppliers.
- One main science payload for advanced gamma and x-ray remote sensing – the HERMES instrument, developed with funding by the Italian Space Agency (HERMES Technological Pathfinder) and by the European Commission H2020 framework (HERMES Scientific Pathfinder).
- Innovative made-in-Australia products to be space qualified for IP generation, including: The Neumann Space Thruster, a novel high efficiency electric propulsion solution ideally suited for applications in Lunar orbit and beyond Earth; The University of Melbourne Thermal Management Integrated System (TheMIS) for precision temperature control of sensitive instrumentation; 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.
- Demonstration of an efficient ground segment capable of receiving operations requests, applying user priority levels, and making complex decisions about tasking of multi-band and multi-network satellite communications, opening new opportunities for rapid satellite re-tasking and data dissemination
SpIRIT represents a “first-in-space” for all key Australian stakeholders: The Australian Space Agency funded construction in 2020 as its first mission. Industry partners Inovor Technologies and Neumann Space will operate hardware in orbit for the first time. The University of Melbourne is effectively leading its first international cooperative project and will fly its own payloads for the first time.
Following SpIRIT’s deployment in orbit, all spacecraft elements will be commissioned, aiming to safely operate the satellite and its payloads, as well as to provide a preliminary hardware performance characterisation. Next, a main mission phase of 20 months will operate the multiple payloads on board SpIRIT. HERMES instrument data acquisition (with concurrent use of the University of Melbourne Thermal Management System) and Neumann Thruster operations will constitute the core activities. Data from the satellite operations will be analysed in detail and correlated with the behaviour of engineering model hardware on the ground to improve the design of SpIRIT technology and make it competitive for use beyond low Earth orbit. Lastly, and depending on spacecraft health, the mission will either start an extended operation phase to characterise long-term satellite survivability under conditions exceeding nominal operating life, or focus on safe deorbiting and closeout.