High-altitude Balloons Provide Foray into Final Frontier

15 April 2015

UNSW is entering two teams entering the Global Space Balloon Challenge for 2015: the BLUEsat team and a team of enterprising postgraduate students whose team flies under the moniker "BALU".

The BALU team, sponsored by the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, recently launched their high-altitude balloon from Warrumbungle National Park, in central NSW. The launch was the UNSW team’s second successful foray into the stratosphere, having competed in the inaugural Global Space Balloon Challenge in 2014 when they won the prize for Best Science Experiment. More than 200 teams from 47 countries took part in this year’s competition, which aims to develop science, engineering and technology skills and provide a low-cost foray into near-space exploration.

From the launch on 12 April, the balloon travelled to a height of 34.33 kilometres above the Warrumbungles – about three times the cruising altitude of commercial aircraft. The unmanned latex helium balloon was specifically manufactured to cope with huge temperature fluctuations and massive expansion due to the decrease in pressure at high altitude.

The team was able to capture spectacular images of the Warrumbungle mountain ranges, including the Siding Springs Observatory, Gunnedah and the curvature of the Earth's surface. Click here for the full set of images.

Read more... Team member Will Crowe said they "chose the Warrumbungles for its rugged beauty and because it was far enough away from the coast that the balloon wouldn’t blow into the ocean...We felt very stressed on the morning of the launch as we knew something can always go wrong even with the best laid plans.”

The balloon’s payload included a powerful avionics computer and a visual display to check the state of the electronic subsystems, as well as two high-definition cameras and an array of sensors and measuring equipment. The balloon travelled 140 kilometres from the launch site, following the Oxley Highway, before landing on a farm north east of Gunnedah with the help of a six-foot self-deploying parachute.

“We were ecstatic on recovering the balloon. The farmer upon whose property the balloon landed was also very excited,” William says.

In addition to new avionics, the team also used a novel payload container and solar heating system to minimise the weight, which allowed the balloon to fly higher and further than the previous launch.

“The main challenge was keeping the electronics warm so they could operate above their minimum temperature requirements. We recorded a minimum external temperature of minus 60° celsius but thankfully our novel solar warming system worked well and kept the internal temperature above minus 15° celsius,” says Joshua Yen.

“I think we went extremely well in this year's challenge. All the electronics worked and survived, and perhaps most importantly our payload design worked as well as we hoped."

The team now plans to enter the Global Space Balloon Challenge competition categories including best experiment, best photo, highest altitude and best design, with the winners announced in June.

Click here for more info on the Global Space Balloon Challenge.

The BLUEsat team will be launching their balloon in late April 2015. You can find footage from their earlier attempts on their YouTube Channel.

This story was first reported by the UNSW Newsroom.

BLUEsat Student Satellite Project leader wins Student Service Award

11 December 2014

ACSER congratulates mechanical engineering student Mr Thien Nguyen on winning this much deserved Faculty accolade which comes with a small monetary reward.

Thien Nguyen completed his Engineering and Mathematics degree in 2014. During his undergraduate career, Thien completed industry projects with Thales Alenia Space, Genesys Electronics Design and has participated in numerous research initiatives under ACSER and the BLUEsat Group.

Thien has been directly involved in BLUEsat's recent revitalisation and helped spearhead numerous new project initiatives, including the Off World Robotics Team and CubeSat research arm of BLUEsat.

Thien's honours thesis investigated Tracking Aircraft through CubeSat Constellation Design.

He remains an ongoing member of the BLUEsat project and aspires to be a leader in the Australian Space Industry.

Click here for more info on the Student Service Awards.

Off Earth Mining Grant for UNSW researchers and NASA

2 December 2014

UNSW Mining Engineering Associate Professor Serkan Saydam and Professor Andrew Dempster (ACSER & EET, UNSW Australia) have recently been successful in securing a $100,000 grant in collaboration with NASA’s Caltech - Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the topic of Mining on Mars. The aim of this research is to develop an integrated set of risk-based financial and technical models to evaluate multiple Off-Earth Mining scenarios. This quantitative, scenario and simulation based tool will help identify combinations of market variables, technical parameters, and policy levers that will enable the expansion of the global economy into the solar system and return economic benefits.

While the grant sits with NASA’s Caltech - Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the collaboration means a vital exchange of research between UNSW and NASA, and some exciting developments in the area of off earth mining.

ARC Discovery Funding Success

5 November 2014

ACSER researchers, in conjunction with the UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering, have been awarded over $340,000 in the latest round of ARC Discovery Project funding announcements. Chief Investigators on the project are Prof Sridevan Parameswaran, Dr Jude Ambrose and Dr Oliver Diessel from the School of CSE and Prof Andrew Dempster and Dr Ediz Cetin from ACSER. The project is titled "Designing Radiation-Tolerant Reconfigurable Systems for Space".

Project summary: The processing speed, cost and flexibility requirements of future satellite-based applications cannot be satisfied with conventional radiation-hardened processors or custom integrated circuits. This project aims to develop key technology to enable off-the-shelf hardware to be customised for this use without compromising reliability. The project aims to develop the design methods needed to implement a given set of satellite applications on a processing platform composed of application-specific soft processors and accelerator circuits hosted on conventional reconfigurable logic devices. Crucially, the solution architecture is expected to be sufficiently hardened against radiation-induced errors while meeting performance and circuit area constraints.

New Technology Centre rises from ashes of Mt Stromlo

26 July 2014


The 2003 bushfires in Canberra, destroyed one of Australia’s most important facilities for astronomy, the Mt Stromlo Observatory. Eleven years later, the final building lost in the fires has been restored and the facility renamed as The New Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre. While the telescopes have been rebuilt at the Siding Spring Observatory, the Mr Stromlo site has been transformed into a technology centre for the design and launch testing of satellites. It is hoped the new centre will become a hub for the space industry.

Read the full transcript here.

ARC Linkage Grant Success

July 2014

ACSER has been successful in being awarded over half a million dollars of funding via the Australian Research Council's Linkage Projects scheme, which support the collaborative work of researchers to produce innovative outputs to the benefit of the nation. Two projects were approved, which is an outstanding success for ACSER given the limited number of grants approved each year. The two projects are as follows:

1) Protecting Critical Transport Infrastructure using Hybrid Approaches for Interference and Spoofer Detection and Localisation (Industry : GPSat Systems Australia)

2) Rapid Recovery from Radiation-induced Errors in Reconfigurable Hardware (Industry Partner: General Dynamics Corporation, New Zealand)

UNSW Team win "Best Experiment" in Global Space Balloon Challenge

June 2014

Team "Bare Necessities" has won the "Best Experiment" category in this year's Global Space Balloon Challenge with their experiment titled Payload Motion Trends from Atmospheric Data. The Balloon Challenge, launched by Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, is an international education outreach and collaboration project to encourage people from around the world to build and launch their own high-altitude balloon science experiments. The team was comprised of Josh Yen, Michael Woods, William Crowe (all UNSW PhD Candidates) and Jeffrey Peng (Professional mechanical/noise and vibration engineer at Wilkinson Murray Australia).

The balloon, BALU-1, was a Totex 1500 gram helium-filled super-pressure type, which reached a peak height of approximately 29.5 km above the Hunter Valley in Australia. It had a raft of sensors attached to measure temperature, humidity, magnetic field, acceleration, radiation and irradiance, as well as cameras and GPS. This was all run through an Arduino Mega and data was saved to a micro SD.

BALU-1 attracted some attention from Hunter Valley local news, showing pictures and video from its two Hack HD 1080p cameras on a beautiful, clear day. The pictures showed the varying landscape of the valley, ranging from state forests to farmland, beaches, ocean and expansive open-cut coal mines. Bare Necessities could infer temperature and spin from the balloon’s solar cell data, which was a particularly intriguing and unexpected finding.

Bare Necessities was funded by UNSW’s Aerosoc, School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research.

You can view the video and images of the Hunter Valley captured by the balloon on the Newcastle Herald website.

To find out more about the competition and the winning category see the Global Space Balloon Challenge website.

ACSER PhD Student Sanat Biswas selected to participate in 2014 IAF Emerging
Space Leaders Grant Programme

May 2014

ACSER PhD Student, Mr Sanat Biswas, has been selected by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) to participate in the 2014 IAF Emerging Space Leaders Grant Programme. The grant will cover Mr Bisaws' attendance at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Toronto, Canada, from 29 September - 3 October 2014.

Only fourteen awards were made from more than 109 students and young professionals applying from 40 countries. More information about the award and a full list of the winners is available here.

ACSER will have five paper presentations in total at the 2014 IAC.

ACSER @ CeBIT 2014

May 2014

ACSER held a stall at the 2014 CeBIT Technology Exhibition in our capacity as a founding partner of Delta V, launching the organisation as the first Space 2.0 business accelerator in Australia. Other partners include the University of Sydney and start-ups Saber Astronautics and Launchbox. It is likely that Delta V will concentrate on gaining Australian access to space, initially using nanosatellites or “cubesats”.

The Delta-V vision is to bootstrap an export-focused hi-tech commercial space services & manufacturing industry within the burgeoning global Space 2.0 marketplace by helping startup teams with innovative space applications ideas come together with mentors, investors and customers.

13th Australian Space Science Conference (ASSC)

October 2013

ACSER assisted in organising the 13th Australian Space Science Conference (ASSC), held in Sydney at the University of NSW. This was the seventh ASSC jointly sponsored and organised by the National Committee for Space and Radio Science (NCSS) and the National Space Society of Australia (NSSA), with the support of the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI). The ASSC is intended to be the primary annual meeting for Australian research relating to space science. It welcomes space scientists, engineers, educators, and workers in Industry and Government.

The scope of the conference covers fundamental and applied research that applies to space technologies, and includes the following:

  • Space science, including space and atmospheric physics, Earth observation and remote sensing from/of space, planetary sciences, astrobiology and life sciences, and space-based astronomy and astrophysics.
  • Space engineering and technology, including communications, navigation, space operations, propulsion, and spacecraft design, testing, and implementation.
  • Space industry
  • Space archaeology
  • Current and future Australian space projects
  • Government, international relations and law
  • Education and outreach, including a dedicated student session.

For more information please visit the 13th Australian Space Science Conference (ASSC) website.

Thomas Cooney has been awarded 2012 VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize

May 2013

ACSER's Thomas Cooney has been awarded the 2012 VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize, and will be attending the NASA Aeronautics Academy at Ames from the 17th June to the 23rd August this year.

The prize, run by the Victorian Space Science Education Centre, offers an Australian university student the opportunity to attend the NASA Academy programs at NASA Ames Research Centre, and work with a lead scientist or engineer on a current NASA project. The NASA Academy is an intensive, select-entry program that provides recent graduates with access to advanced science and engineering R&D, and an awareness of the complex managerial, political, financial, social, and human issues faced by the current and future aerospace programs.

Thomas' entry was judged on his 4th Year Honours Thesis entitled: "Electronics for L-Band Synthetic Aperture Phased Array Radar" completed at the School of Electrical Engineering at UNSW under Dr Torsten Lehmann as part of the Garada Project at the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), also at UNSW. After being selected as the "Data Processing and Electronics" category winner, an application was made directly to NASA along with 3 other category winners.

5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies

May 2013

Professor Andrew Dempster, the Director of ACSER has been invited to be on the conference committee of the The International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT) conference. The SFFMT follows a tradition of organisation by national and international space agencies. The conference focuses on technologies and systems for spacecraft formation-flying and on-orbit-servicing, and offers the opportunity to discuss ideas and share experiences with participants from all over the world. The conference is intended as a forum for global experts and will act as a showcase for the most recent achievements in the area of distributed space systems. Particular attention will be given to actual national and international space projects, in an attempt to outline the activities which are paving the way for the transition of these breakthrough technologies into operational missions.

For more information please visit the SFFMT Website or download the conference brochure.

2012 International Conference on Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation (IPIN)

23 February 2012

The 3rd International Conference on Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation (IPIN) will take place on 13-15th November 2012 at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. The Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) is a proud sponsor of the Conference. For more details about the Conference and registration process please click here.

Australian Spatial Consortium releases "Australian Strategic Plan for GNSS"

17 February 2012

ACSER researchers Professor Chris Rizos and Professor Andrew Dempster have contributed to the Australian Strategic Plan for GNSS which recommends how Australia should respond to the rapid increase in navigation satellites available in the next decade.

Principles for a National Space Industry Policy Released

4 October 2011

On 26 Sep 2011, Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, addressed the Australian Space Science Conference in Canberra and announced the release of the Principles for a National Space Industry Policy. Senator Carr stressed the importance of the space industry in Australia and the vast impact it will have and it has already had on the Australian economy and the lives of all Australians.

Senator Carr declared "In putting these Principles to you today, I urge you and the people you represent to contribute to the national policy debate. We are transforming our nation for the twenty-first century - and the space community must stand in the front-line of change."

Nagaraj wins Parkinson Award

27 September 2011

The Institute of Navigation (ION) awarded Dr Nagaraj C. Shivaramaiah of ACSER, UNSW its prestigious Bradford W. Parkinson Award. Nagaraj is recognised for Graduate Student Excellence in Global Navigation Satellite Systems in his thesis "Enhanced Receiver Techniques for Galileo E5AltBOC Signal".

Nagaraj introduced a number of algorithms specific to E5 in his thesis, the most sophisticated GNSS signal, including a patented multipath technique. He is now responsible for developing a space-capable multi-GNSS (L1/E1/L5/E5) version of the receiver.

UNSW's Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research and the School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems were well represented at the ION GNSS 2011 Conference.

Shown in the picture are (l-r) Prof Chris Rizos, winners of the student awards Joon Wayn Cheong and Nima Alam, Dr Nagaraj Shivaramaiah, Prof Andrew Dempster and A/Prof Jinling Wang at the conference.

Biarri GPS Receiver Project

4 July 2011

Biarri is a new collaborative Space Development Program, led by BAE Systems, which requires ACSER to provide a space-qualified GPS receiver for DSTO's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division (ISRD). This project will develop a GPS L1-only receiver ahead of the L1/ E1/ L5/ E5 GPS/ Galileo receiver for project Garada.

ACSER Education Grant Success

28 June 2011

As announced by Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr on 17 June 2011, a comprehensive tertiary education program in Satellite Systems Engineering, to be developed by the ACSER, was funded in Round 4 of the Australian Space Research Program (ASRP).

"Supporting our next generation of researchers, the University of New South Wales will partner with national and international space industry bodies and use their $675,000 grant to formulate and deliver a two-year Masters degree program in satellite systems engineering. This will address the current education gap and help prepare graduates with industry experience for Australia's developing space industry." Senator Carr said.

The project will develop and deliver a comprehensive, sustainable tertiary education program in satellite systems engineering comprising a two-year master's qualification. The project is led by Elias Aboutanios, of the University of New South Wales in collaboration with a world class consortium which includes Australia's only satellite owner and operator, Optus, the multi-national Thales Group, and France's Institut Superieur de l'Aeronautique et de l'Espace.

The developed program will be optimised for Australia's strategic and commercial interests and deliver a 'systems-wide' understanding of satellite systems and their applications, from the space segment, to the ground operations, and the end users. International and local industry internships and student exchanges will be incorporated into the program to enhance the skills of graduates.

Shown in the picture are (l-r) Etienne Barritault, Elias Aboutanios, Didier Le-Boulch and Michel Perdu standing in front of a GlobalStar satellite at the TAS satellite payload facility in Toulouse, France.