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Aussie satellites to improve air traffic control

written by Adam Thorn | January 3, 2023

Skykraft is gearing up to launch a constellation of 200 satellites that will be used to improve flight and air safety as well as communication.

The first satellites from the project are set to launch on Wednesday from SpaceX’s launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Skykraft, a Canberra-based space services company, is working with Airservices Australia on the project and hopes to have the first tranche of satellites operational later this year following a three-month testing process.

The satellites have been designed to provide better monitoring of aircraft by covering current gaps in Australia’s air traffic management systems.


As part of their operations, the satellites will foster improved communication with aircraft and may improve the efficiency of routes as well as help aircraft avoid turbulence.

According to the company’s chief executive Michael Frater, Skykraft’s satellite constellation plan is expected to cost less than $200 million.

Frater spoke further about the project, pointing out that land-based monitoring of aircraft does not cover aircraft for their entire routes.

“At the moment, there are holes in the coverage over Australia,” he said.

“By putting it in space, we can cover a much larger area from the satellite than it’s possible to cover from a ground-based system.”

“For the first time, Airservices Australia will have full coverage for their surveillance service, they’ll know where every aircraft is in Australia.”

Currently, aircraft monitoring systems can only track aircraft up to 400 kilometres away from land and requires the aircraft to be in line of sight of a radar system.

These radar systems, in conjunction with radio communication, can result in long delays for pilots to be provided with approval to change course, something that Frater says will change with Skykraft’s satellites.

“So, if you’re flying from Sydney to Los Angeles and your aircraft hits turbulence, the pilot will now be able to get a clearance to change altitude much more quickly,” he said.

The planned January launch of the first set of satellites will see five of Skykraft’s 300kg satellites blast-off into space, making them the largest Australian-made objects launched into space.

Skykraft came into existence in 2017 as a spin-off from the space capability incubator UNSW Canberra Space. They now exist within the framework of UNSW Launch and have a dedicated manufacturing facility within Canberra.

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