A CubeSat is a standard shaped satellite, small enough to be developed by universities, but large enough to potentially produce some truly ground-breaking scientific discoveries. To make launch and deployment easier, CubeSats are designed in standard box shapes. A “1U” CubeSat is a cube approximately 10cm on each side, and larger CubeSats are measured by the number of 1U blocks it would take to fill the same volume (so, a 2U CubeSat would be approximately 10cm x 10cm x 20cm). CubeSats were first proposed by professors at California Polytechnic and Stanford in 1999, and since then over 600 CubeSats have been launched into low earth orbit. See http://www.CubeSat.org/about/ and http://www.nanosats.eu for more details and a launch database.
Why is it called the SpIRIT Nanosatellite?
SpIRIT stands for: Space Industry – Responsive, Intelligent, Thermal; describing the major partnerships of the consortium constructing SpIRIT, and the technology developments SpIRIT will focus on.
What will SpIRIT discover?
SpIRIT will be part of the larger HERMES-TP/SP mini-constellation. It will help them localise the source of X-ray and Gamma ray bursts seen from Earth, by comparing the arrival time of the wavefronts across the different satellites in the constellation. See the science.
How big is SpIRIT?
SpIRIT is a 6U CubeSat weighing in at 11.5 kilograms. During the launch phase, SpIRIT will measure 100mm x 226mm x 365mm, but once it reaches orbit and extends its solar arrays, it will have a wingspan of 820mm.
The SpIRIT nanosatellite is funded by the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, under the International Space Investment – Expand Capability Grant Scheme. The grant scheme was designed to help unlock international space opportunities for Australia, by expanding the capability and capacity of the Australian space sector. $11M AUD was awarded to 10 projects, competitively selected by the Australian Space Agency.
I haven't heard of any Australian satellites before. How many are there?
While there aren’t many Australian satellites, the national space capability is developing, especially in the CubeSat category. The growth in the Australian space industry has led to a number of Australian CubeSats launching prior to 2020. These include:
Three CubeSats launched to the International Space Station and deployed into low Earth orbit as part of the international QB50 program (May 2017)
Fleet Space launched multiple commercial satellites (November 2018)
UNSW-Canberra/Australian Defence Force M1 (December 2018) and M2 Pathfinder (May 2020)
The student led Melbourne Space Program Acrux-1 (June 2019)
Many other groups and universities within Australia are also working on their own scientific and commercial satellites.
Is there anyway to be involved with SpIRIT?
SpIRIT has been and will continue to directly support workforce training within the Australian space sector, through student placement within the industry partners, and research opportunities within the University of Melbourne. If you are interested in either of these, please contact us.