Close sidebar

UNSW Canberra building three miniature satellites for Australian Defence Force

written by | September 29, 2017
A supplied image of a cubesat miniature satellite. (UNSW Canberra)
A supplied image of a cubesat miniature satellite. (UNSW Canberra)

University of New South Wales Canberra has secured a $10 million contract to build three mini satellites for the Australian Government to boost its surveillance capabilities.

The project is part of a three-year space research and development program involving UNSW Canberra, the Australian Defence Force Academy and Royal Australian Air Force, it was announced at the International Astronautical Congress on Thursday.

The first satellite will launch in early 2018, with a second launch planned for the following year.


UNSW Canberra space director Professor Russell Boyce said the miniature satellites, also known as Cubesats, were earmarked for the Australian Defence Force to use on maritime surveillance.

“These spacecraft are able to gather remote sensing information with radios and cameras, and are the sort of innovative space capability that can help meet many ground-based needs in ways that make sense for Australia,” Professor Boyce said in a statement.

“Because they have re-programmable software defined radios on board, we can change their purpose on the fly during the mission, which greatly improves the spacecraft’s functional capabilities for multiple use by Defence.”

The Cubesats weighed about 4kg and were about the size of a loaf of bread, UNSW Canberra said.

Space research engineer Simon Barraclough holding the 3D printed model of the CubeSat that UNSW is building for Air Force. (UNSW Canberra)
Space research engineer Simon Barraclough holding the 3D printed model of the CubeSat that UNSW is building for Air Force. (UNSW Canberra)

Federal Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said the three miniature satellites would provide an “opportunity to demonstrate innovative communications and remote-sensing payloads, and test spaceflight modelling techniques”.

Further, it would also “help achieve a secure, resilient Australia by supporting the protection of our space systems from debris and anti-satellite weapons”.

“Partnerships such as this are an integral element of our Defence Force,” Pyne said in a statement.

“The expansion of space research and development into a regional academic institution provides Defence with an opportunity to build, sustain and create momentum to develop our space professionals.”

The announcement comes after the Australian government said it planned to set up its own national space agency.

Sign up to our digital magazine before 30 June and receive a FREE print edition. Starting at just $99.95 a year, you will get the latest news and insights direct to you, including Australia’s most popular print magazine since 1977. Subscribe now at


  • Philip


    Excellent announcement. Should greatly enhance the Australian surveillance capability in the region. Congratulations to the UNSW in Canberra.

    Now we look forward to a delivery platform that is also designed and based in Australia. …

  • Robert


    Maybe they could get us Kiwi’s, courtesy of Rocket Lab, to launch them with the Electron out of Mahia.

  • Paul


    These sats have nothing on the joint US AUS facilities here. I would think these joint bases have things covered.

  • Adrian P


    Perhaps it is time for all new satellites to have ADSB for space traffic management purposes.
    Its is only a matter of time before one of these small objects takes out a manned mission.

  • Paul


    Adrian P, I think the major sats for the DSP program and others already have these. As Australia will have or is starting its own space program, this is a great step by ensuring our own reliance for the ADF. Just a thought Cheers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Each day, our subscribers are more informed with the right information.

SIGN UP to the Australian Aviation magazine for high-quality news and features for just $99.95 per year