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Flying cars, lower launch costs: Swinburne University opens aerospace research hub in Victoria

written by Isabella Richards | November 8, 2021
Swinburne University of Technology opens up aerospace research hub in Victoria. (Swinburne)

Swinburne University of Technology has launched an “Australian-first” research hub to boost the aerospace and space sector in Victoria – set to accelerate flying car innovations and lower launch costs.

Dubbed the Aerostructures Innovation Research Hub (AIR Hub), it is backed by the Victorian government’s $12 million higher education state investment fund.

Swinburne’s vice-chancellor and president Professor Pascale Quester said the initiative brings “people and technology together” for a “better world”.

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“Working closely with the aerospace industry, AIR Hub will create innovative materials and manufacturing processes for passenger planes, air cargo, as well as the space industry,” Professor Quester said.

Led by Swinburne, research, design and manufacturing leaders will collaborate on breaking through some of the roadblocks of “next generation air mobility,” the press release said.

The hub will boost local aerospace innovations, such as electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicle’s (eVTOL) – or flying cars.

The industry is expected to be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040, accelerated by increasing pressure for sustainable aviation.

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As part of the process, AIR Hub will utilise artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, machine learning and robots to develop aerostructures for these innovations.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones could travel further to deliver supplies to remote places, and eVTOL could become the future in a ‘flying Uber’ concept of transportation,” the release added.

eVTOL production has ramped up across the globe in recent years and is now beginning to infiltrate the Australian aviation market.

Melbourne-based start-up Skyportz – which is set to develop air taxi landing ports in Melbourne – announced in September a slew of new partnerships to support the entrance of eVTOL vehicles into the Australian market.

Skyportz is currently working with property owners to establish the landing infrastructure required for the introduction of air taxis in Melbourne.

The company said it is focused on introducing a range of Skyportz locations, from existing helipads and airports, on to key suburban and urban locations such as business parks, shopping centres, industrial sites and greenfield city fringe developments.

“AIR Hub will also work closely with Swinburne’s Victorian Hydrogen Hub (VH2) to research and develop capacity for hydrogen storage on aircraft and eVTOL air vehicles, enabling them to make use of green fuels of the future to help meet global zero-emission targets,” Professor Quester said.

Announcing the AIR Hub, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said, “developing ground-breaking technology in our own backyard will position Victoria as a world leader in the aeronautical industry.”

The hub will also enable collaboration with industry leaders for decreasing rocket launch costs by light-weighting and automating the production of space systems.

“Light-weighting the manufacturing of parts to achieve better fuel efficiency and handling, and faster production could save thousands of dollars per launch,” the press release said.

Local launches have previously been inhibited by significant manufacturing costs and a lack of government support; but since the Morrison administration began in 2018, $700 million – and counting – has been invested into the space industry.

Swinburne said the hub would open up business opportunities for home-ground Australian companies among a “lucrative global space” industry.

AIR Hub is backed by several aerospace and space giants, including Boeing, Quickstep, CableX, Furnace Engineering, Shoal and Marand Precision Engineering.

It’s also in partnership with research leaders including CSIRO, Monash University and Germany’s University of Stuttgart and ARENA 2036 combining with Swinburne’s research teams.

 

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