Can Space be an affordable frontier?

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// What does a high flying university professor, a team of scientists and engineers have to do with startups and innovation..?

Startup News recently sat down with one of two joint winners of the 2019 Premier’s Scientist of the Year award, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Phil Bland, to talk about his achievements.

With the recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the recent establishment of Australia’s Space Agency in WA and his recent award, space seems to be all the rage at the moment.

Phil joined Curtin University seven years ago from Imperial College (London) to embark on research that would go on to help scientists understand how the solar system formed and evolved over time.

The Desert Fireball Network (DFN) was his brainchild, accurately tracking meteorites coming through the atmosphere. Not only would the team be able to discover the origins of the meteorite, it has spawned partnerships with companies such as Lockheed Martin, and space agencies across the world.

Phil Bland receiving his Scientist of the Year Award. Photo credit: Department of JTSI, MCB, Photographics, Cathy Fogliani

The Scientist of the Year award, the suite of work that’s happened at Curtin and the SSTC is testament to Phil’s ethos:

“There’s no point doing research unless at the very least you’re aiming to do it at a world class level,” Phil Bland told Startup News. “If you’re not aiming to do that then forget it.

“It’s like test cricket, if you’re capable of playing at that level, you’ll be wanting to play tests every day. If you’re being challenged at that level, that’s great. And with our team they are playing test cricket every day.”

Professor Phil Bland

Solving Astronomical Problems

One spin off from the DFN has been satellite tracking technology. You may think satellite tracking is old news, but despite billions of dollars having been spent globally, you still can’t be sure where your satellite is in orbit. With the tech that Phil has developed for DFN, it’s now possible to track satellites within arcseconds.

“You can know every couple of hours where your satellite is with great precision, and in a cost effective way. It’s taken about 2 and a half years to get there and it’s gorgeous!”

Professor Phil Bland

Creating Perth’s Own Satellite

In 2018, Curtin joined the growing number of universities and startups in Australia developing CubeSats – small satellites typically 10cm in width, length, and breadth.

What is unique about Curtin’s solution is its reduced reliance on commercial off the shelf parts (COTS).

Instead, together with the ingenuity of Curtin’s PhD candidates Nathaniel Brough, Stuart Buchen and Fergus Downey, the cost of launching a satellite components has been driven down by at least $50,000.

For startups dreaming of space solutions or payloads being delivered into space, Phil says the SSTC could soon be offering cost efficient ways for startups to send their ideas up, up and away.

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Main Image: Curtin University