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DST, UniSA, SmartSat CRC explore LEOsat comms

DST Group is exploring how constellations of small, smart satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) can open up opportunities for Defence. Underpinned by Defence’s Resilient Multi-Mission Space STaR Shot, these opportunities are expected to lead to enhanced operational capabilities across surveillance; space situational awareness; position, navigation and timing; geospatial intelligence; and resilient global communications.

The project is being carried out through the SmartSat CRC research consortium, and brings together Defence scientists with experienced subject matter experts from the University of South Australia (UniSA).

Equipping space satellite clusters with an increasing level of autonomy requires the development of flexible and interconnected communications architectures and protocols. DST Group scientist Dr Balachander Ramamurthy is leading a DST and UniSA team that is investigating this emerging, rapidly developing field.

Dr Ramamurthy says the aim is to introduce some novel communications technologies in future space missions, extending what was available for DSTG’s inaugural cubesat mission, the Buccaneer Risk Mitigation Mission.

To create more resilient communications between satellites, ground networks and users, his team is investigating beamforming techniques using multiple antennas. Some of the recent ground-breaking developments in terrestrial communications systems such as 5G networks have come about as a result of what’s known as massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) and cooperative systems.

The team is exploring how these technologies can be used with small satellite clusters in several ways including to securely task space missions for near real-time operations, and to enable an efficient network of active space sensors to process data before sending it back to a ground network.

Through Defence’s Resilient Multi-Mission Space STaR Shot, Dr Ramamurthy plans to demonstrate exemplar satellite communications to address effects and countermeasures. He says success will be measured by how many of the outcomes of this SmartSat CRC project eventually find their way into space to support Defence capabilities.

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