Researchers at The University of Queensland yesterday moved one step closer to sending small satellites into space via a reusable launch system.
The launch of a small plane on 23 December marked the first successful use of the Austral Launch Vehicle (ALV), which is designed to return to its base after carrying a satellite into space.
UQ Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion Professor Michael Smart said current single-use launch systems for small satellites made it incredibly expensive to send satellites into orbit.
“Currently, once launch systems have travelled their designated trajectory, they drop away and fall into the ocean,” Professor Smart said.
This is where the ALV differs.
“Working in partnership with Brisbane-based start-up companies Heliaq Advanced Engineering, and Australian Droid and Robot, we’ve designed a rocket system that can be re-used,” Professor Smart said.
“It is a rocket booster in the usual sense, but instead of falling into the ocean once it has done its job, it deploys wings and a propeller motor, so it can safely return to base.
“UQ has a great interest in this new technology since we have worked for many years to develop reusable scramjet vehicles that fly like planes.
“The combination of the ALV and a UQ scramjet would mean almost 85 per cent of a satellite launch system would be reusable.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Australia to become a part of the space sector.”
The successful launch of the ALV has the research team looking to the international market, with a projected demand for 400 satellites in 2016.
“I think there is real potential for Australia to become the ‘go-to’ country for small satellite launches, and I see this as playing a vital role in Australia’s innovation revolution,” Professor Smart said.