Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 3, 2017 Contents 56 Defence Issue 3 2017
IFTY years ago Australia ventured
into space with the launch of the
Weapons Research Establishment
Satellite (WRESAT) from the South
WRESAT blasted off from Woomera
on board an American Redstone rocket on
29 November 1967 and completed 642 orbits
before crashing back to earth over the Atlantic
Ocean west of Ireland in January 1968.
Design work on the satellite began in early
1967 as a joint venture between the Weapons
Research Establishment and the University of
The United States and United Kingdom
provided assistance on the project and Australia
joined a small and elite group of nations which
had built a launched a satellite from its own
WRESAT was the size of a refrigerator
it measured 1.6m and weighed 45kg. The
experiments it conducted and the data it relayed
back to earth were limited by the technology of
This is in stark contrast to today when
numerous and highly complex satellites, about
the size of toasters, are being launched into
space almost on a daily basis.
Cube satellites are made up of small cubes
that can be configured in various combinations,
depending on their mission and payload.
The advantage of using cube satellites that
typically weigh less than 10kg is that they are
smaller and lighter than conventional satellites,
more than one can be carried into space at one
time and they cost much less to launch.
As a result of the new opportunities offered
by small satellites, Defence’s involvement in
space research is expanding.
Defence Science and Technology Group is
involved in two separate cube-satellite activities
aimed at enhancing Defence’s space situational
awareness. Researchers involved in the
programs are celebrating some achievements.
One program involving the first fully
Australian and New Zealand developed global
positioning system (GPS) payload for a cube-
satellite is successfully returning data to its host
spacecraft and ground controllers.
The Namaru GPS payload is conducting a
range of experiments that aim to increase our
understanding of outer atmospheric effects on
small satellites and improving our situational
awareness of space.
The technology was developed by the
University of New South Wales in Sydney at
the Australian Centre for Space Engineering
Research (ACSER) with the mission integration
organised by DST.
The Director of ACSER, Andrew Dempster,
says the technology is in orbit on board the
United States Biarri-Point cube satellite
deployed from the International Space Station
“To have produced the first Australian and
New Zealand developed global positioning
satellites navigating in space is a great
achievement,” Andrew says.
“I’m proud of the team that has worked
for 14 years developing the Namuru series of
The Senior Research Assistant at ACSER,
Eamonn Glennon, says GPS is a critical
component in cube satellites, unmanned aerial
vehicles and rocket avionics.
“Having a domestic capability in this area
will ensure Australia can better participate in
space, as well as being able to tailor solutions
for specialised applications and research,”
Meanwhile, preparation for launch of an
all-Australian state-of-the-art miniature satellite
is well under way. The Buccaneer satellite will
launch from the United States and will play an
important role in developing Australia’s space-
A team of Australian scientists and engineers
has completed a series of tests at California
Polytechnic State University on the satellite
following its delivery from Australia.
They conducted tests to ensure the satellite
is functioning properly before and after it was
integrated with an orbital deployer that will be
carried into space by a Delta II launch vehicle.
Buccaneer is a cube satellite developed by
the University of New South Wales (UNSW)
Canberra and DST.
It is scheduled to be launched from California’s
Vandenberg Air Force Base later this year.
By Darryl Johnston
Fifty years after our first foray into space,
Australia is deepening its space research
States and the
on the project and
Australia joined a
small and elite group
of nations which had
built and launched a
satellite from its own
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