SpIRIT (Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal)
University of Melbourne
Planned for launch in November 2023, the Space Industry - Responsive - Intelligent - Thermal (SpIRIT) nanosatellite is operated by the University of Melbourne. The satellite has been built in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency, and several Australian space industry companies. The nanosatellite will operate with the High Energy Rapid Modular Ensemble of Satellites (HERMES) to observe X-ray and gamma-ray emissions from space.
|Agency||University of Melbourne|
|Launch date||November 2023|
The only instrument payload for SpIRIT is the HERMES payload - an X-ray and gamma-ray spectrometer with associated control electronics. This instrument will be used in collaboration with identical instruments onboard the HERMES constellation satellites to determine the location of X-ray and gamma-ray emissions from space.
SpIRIT will undertake a sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 550 km.
Space and Hardware Components
SpIRIT utilises the Apogee platform spacecraft bus developed by the Australian company, Inovor Technologies. The entire nanosatellite with bus and instrumentation has a mass of 11.5 kg. 10)
The Payload Management System (PMS) onboard SpIRIT includes a payload computer, a power supply, and a visible and infrared (IR) camera. The Thermal Management Integrated System (TheMIS) provides active cooling for all instrumentation onboard the satellite. The communication module named “Mercury”, will carry both Iridium and Globalstar transceivers, and autonomously switch between them for optimal coverage. The propulsion system is a lightweight ion thruster developed by the Australian company, Neumann Space.
The Nova Ground Station in South Australia will perform all ground-to-satellite communication.
The SpIRIT nanosatellite is operated by the University of Melbourne and is expected to launch in November 2023 from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in the United States. The satellite has been built in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency, and several Australian space industry companies: Inovor Technologies, Neumann Space, Sitael Australia, and Nova Systems. The nanosatellite will operate with HERMES to observe and pinpoint X-ray and gamma-ray emissions from space.
The funding for this mission has been acquired from many sources. This mission was successful in obtaining an Expand Capability grant provided by the Australian Space Agency’s International Space Investment program. SpIRIT is also financially supported by the Italian Space Agency and the United Kingdom Space Agency. Additionally, the University of Melbourne was successful in being awarded an AU$ 3.95 million Australian government grant. 1) 2)
The 6U CubeSat SpIRIT mission is being designed and built by a consortium led by the Melbourne Space Laboratory at the University of Melbourne.
SpIRIT utilises the Apogee platform spacecraft bus developed by Inovor Technologies. The Apogee platform will provide power, attitude control, spacecraft command and control as well as telemetry systems, all integrated into a lightweight modular structure enabling the satellite to have a total mass of 11.5 kg. The Apogee bus power system has a unique distributed architecture providing unprecedented fault tolerance as well as high burst power. The attitude control system provides precision pointing using a three-axis reaction wheel control. The sensor suite consists of multiple sensor combinations providing fault-tolerant attitude estimation in all phases of flight. The full attitude control system, including the star tracker, is packaged in a 0.6U module.
The PMS provides an integration solution between complex instrumentation and spacecraft platforms. The PMS onboard SpIRIT includes a payload computer, a power supply, and a visible and IR camera.
The MIS provides active cooling for all instrumentation onboard the satellite. This provides advantages for near-to-far IR remote sensing, high-energy radiation detection, and electrical system resilience in hard radiation environments. Consequently, this leads to a wide range of potential applications including Earth observations, space situational awareness, and asteroid mineral prospecting via remote sensing.
The communication payload, named the Mercury payload, will provide a low-latency communication link for time-critical data. Mercury will carry both Iridium and Globalstar transceivers, and autonomously switch between them for optimal coverage.
The Neumann Space propulsion system is a lightweight solar-electric ion thruster. It is adjustable, efficient and scalable from CubeSats to large spacecraft. It uses a Centre-Triggered Pulsed Cathodic Arc Thruster (CT-PCAT) developed by Neumman Space to convert a solid conductive fuel rod into plasma and produce thrust, using a range of conductive fuels. 9)
SpIRIT is expected to launch in November 2023 onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in the United States. 4) 8)
Orbit: The satellite will undertake a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 550 km.
- October 9, 2023: The SpIRIT spacecraft has been sent to the Netherlands where it will be placed in a dispenser pod before being sent to California in the United States in preparation for its launch in November 2023.
- July 22, 2022: Integration tests of the HERMES instrument into the SpIRIT service module have been successfully performed by INAF-EKUT-UoM (National Institute for Astrophysics - University of Tübingen - University of Melbourne) teams from July 4 to July 22.
- September 11, 2020: The SpIRIT mission received grant funding from the Australian Space Agency’s International Space Investment in the form of their Expand Capability grant opportunity. SpIRIT is also financially supported by the Italian Space Agency, and the United Kingdom Space Agency. Additionally, the University of Melbourne was successful in being awarded an AU$ 3.95 million Australian government grant to build the SpIRIT satellite.
- July 17, 2020: Sitael Australia announces that it will be partnering with the University of Melbourne to help deliver systems engineering, integration and test of the SpIRIT satellite, and ensure a successful flight mission with all project partners. 11)
- July 2020: The Kick-Off meeting is done which defined the scope of work, work packages, and formal system requirements between all partners. The Principal Investigator is Associate Professor Michele Trenti, and the Deputy Principal Investigator is Dr Airlie Chapman. 3)
High Energy Rapid Modular Ensemble of Satellites (HERMES) Instrument - X-ray and gamma-ray spectrometer
The Hermes instrument was provided by the Italian Space Agency having been funded by the European Commission H2020 framework. It consists of an X-ray and gamma-ray spectrometer, and associated control electronics. It is the same instrument that will be used by all six satellites of the HERMES constellation to be launched in 2024.
SpIRIT with the HERMES constellation will locate high-energy radiation sources by comparing the arrival time of X-ray wavefronts. Each detector records the intensity of arriving X-rays, and since the source of the X-rays is the same, the signal received will be identical but shifted by some unknown time delay. The time delay can be recovered by conducting a cross-correlation on the two signals which will be used to determine the direction of the source. 5) 6)
The Nova ground station in South Australia will perform all communication services. When receiving operation requests, they take into account known constraints of the systems in terms of health and availability, to make the rapid decisions about the tasking of its antennas.
1) University of Melbourne. “SpIRIT.” SpIRIT | Space Industry – Responsive – Intelligent – Thermal Nanosatellite, https://spirit.research.unimelb.edu.au.
2) University of Melbourne. “SpIRIT Science | SpIRIT.” SpIRIT, https://spirit.research.unimelb.edu.au/spirit-science/.
3) University of Melbourne. “Timeline | SpIRIT.” SpIRIT, https://spirit.research.unimelb.edu.au/timeline/.
4) University of Melbourne. “SpIRIT booked for launch in early 2023!! | SpIRIT.” SpIRIT, 22 July 2022, https://spirit.research.unimelb.edu.au/2022/07/22/spirit-booked-for-launch-in-early-2023/.
5) HERMES. “HERMES-SP (High Energy Rapid Modular Ensemble of Satellites - Scientific Pathfinder).” Hermes-SP – Progetto H2020, https://www.hermes-sp.eu.
6) Citossi, Marco. “HERMES payload flight model integration into SpIRIT satellite.” Hermes-SP, 2022, https://www.hermes-sp.eu/?p=8848.
7) Tran, Vi. “University of Melbourne’s SpIRIT satellite launching in 2023.” Spaceaustralia, 2 August 2022, https://spaceaustralia.com/news/university-melbournes-spirit-satellite-launching-2023
8) ISISPACE. “SpIRIT satellite booked for launch in early 2023.” ISISPACE, 22 July 2022, https://www.isispace.nl/news/spirit-satellite-booked-for-launch-in-early-2023/.
9) Neumann Space. “Neumann Drive – Neumann Space.” Neumann Space, https://neumannspace.com/neumann-drive/.
10) Inovor Technologies. Inovor Technologies,https://www.inovor.com.au/missions/.
11) De Angelis, Agostino. “SITAEL AUSTRALIA cooperates with the University of Melbourne and Australian industry partners for new Australian Satellite.” SITAEL, 17 June 2020, https://www.sitael.com/sitael-australia-cooperates-with-the-university-of-melbourne-and-australian-industry-partners-for-new-australian-satellite/.
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).