NASA collaborates with Australian smart satellite centre on beacon technology

An artist’s render of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Image courtesy NASA.
An artist’s render of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Image courtesy NASA.

A deal between NASA and the Adelaide-based SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre could lead to emergency beacon technology developed in South Australia for the next moon missions.

In a collaboration being hailed as a significant boost for Australia’s developing space economy, the partnership aims to use emerging satellite technology to advance distress-related communications and navigation systems to benefit the US and Australia.

The SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre brings together more than 100 national and international partners who have invested over $190 million, along with $55 million in Federal Government funding over seven years.

The NASA Search and Rescue office collaboration involves South Australian organisations Myriota, Black Art Technologies, UniSA, Safety from Space and Flinders University.

SmartSat CEO and managing director Professor Andy Koronios said the project would help to build Australia’s Space industry by developing leading edge technology and expertise with the partners involved.

“This collaboration is part of a more systematic and broader activity between NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and SmartSat CRC and opens the door to a lot of possibilities for the Australian space community,” he said.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Goddard’s Search and Rescue office, joining their push towards the moon and beyond.”

NASA’s Artemis program aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.

The knowledge gained will then be used to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

Myriota’s CEO and co-founder, Dr Alex Grant, said that the IoT company was proud to work alongside SmartSat CRC on a project that would have countless benefits for Australia and the growth of our space industry.

“The current technology behind search and rescue distress-related emergency beacons can be unreliable in certain instances due to a lack of messaging integration and a high rate of false alarms,” Grant said.

“We anticipate that the research collaboration between the SmartSat CRC, NASA and Myriota will lead to the development of technology that will provide a much more targeted service than what is currently available, and give first responders greater confidence and access to crucial information in emergency situations.”

Specifically, the SmartSat research team, led by Safety from Space’s co-founder Dr Mark Rice, will propose new designs for the waveform of the 406 MHz signal sent by beacons through the Cospas-Sarsat network, which works low-Earth orbit, medium-Earth orbit and high-altitude geosynchronous orbit satellites

“These new designs will further modernize second-generation beacons, taking advantage of encoding techniques not available when the Cospas-Sarsat network was developed in the 1970s, Rice said.

“This will enable possibilities for new initiatives for users, emergency management professionals and first responders.”

Future phases of the SmartSat collaboration could support exploration initiatives like the Artemis missions, which will return humans to the moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

NASA will equip Artemis astronauts with second-generation beacons for use in the event of emergency escape from the capsule after splashdown or a launch abort scenario.

Originally published in The Lead.