4 mins read 14 Feb 2022

Space Agency awards three companies $1.2 million in funding

Robotic arms, mission simulation, and optical units and image sensors are the three big winners from the latest round of Space Agency grants totalling $1.2 million.

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft with the Canadarm2 robotic arm attached to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/JSC.

Sydney-based companies Industrial Sciences Group and Blueprint Lab, along with Infinity Avionics from Canberra, will share in just over $1.2 million in round four of the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grants Program. 

The latest grant recipients are developing both software and hardware space technologies, including robotics, mission simulation and analytics, and optical and image sensors.

The Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grants Program has awarded $4.4 million in grants since the program opened with another four rounds of grants still to be awarded this year.   

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palermo, said he’s confident that the projects awarded the grants had the potential to leave a mark on the industry.

“I’m consistently impressed by the space technologies being developed here in Australia and know that our businesses and researchers have what it takes to make a real impression on the global stage,” Mr Palermo said.

“We are continuing to build momentum in the local space sector and enhancing our credentials as a serious space nation.”

Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price said the Government was backing small and medium-sized businesses as part of the mission to triple the space sector’s size to $12 billion and create up to 20,000 new jobs by 2030.

“This is another example of the incredible space capability that exists in Australia,” Minister Price said.

“We’re supporting the Australian space industry to grow its capacity to compete in a global market and become part of future missions, including NASA’s endeavours to return to the Moon and go on to Mars.

“Space is critical to our everyday lives and is also a growing economic powerhouse, so by investing in these projects we’re investing in the future of Australia.”

The Grant Recipients

Industrial Sciences Group will receive $442,320 to further develop its Space Mission Analytics Toolkit, which contractors on upcoming NASA lunar missions are already planning on using.

The toolkit includes software to simulate missions to allow for fine-tuning. It will help reduce simulation times and replace ad hoc and non-repeatable processes saving both time and labour costs. The Toolkit will also reduce uncertainties with spacecraft trajectory design, manoeuvres, low thrust propulsion, and reception of tracking data. 

Infinity Avionics, based in Canberra, will receive $456,323 to develop a modular imaging unit (MIU) for space applications. The MIU is the baseline product to provide off-the-shelf, plug-and-play imaging sensors for Earth Observation, Space-Based Space-Surveillance, and lander and rover missions as part of the Moon to Mars initiatives. The modular innovation will allow for optical units and image sensor options to be mixed and matched to suit the need of the particular mission. 

Blueprint Lab, Sydney, specialises in developing robotic arms for harsh environments. They have received $317,844 to transfer its advanced robotic manipulator technology into the space domain by carrying out space hardening and space optimisation activities such as radiation and thermal requirements, optimisation for launch and zero-g operations, and a comprehensive reliability improvement program. 

Blueprint announced its collaboration with UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) in December 2021, to work on environmental testing and analysis of robotic manipulator technology.

Business Development Manager at Blueprint Lab, Mr Anders Ridley-Smith said, "Blueprint Lab’s vision is to extend human reach into harsh environments. We’re actively looking to transfer our manipulator arm technology, designed for harsh subsea environments, to the space sector. Collaborating with ACSER and drawing on their space engineering knowledge and expertise will help us progress more rapidly on this journey.”