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Last time on The Australian Space Program, our intrepid heroes were struggling to build an Australian space agency! And now for our thrilling conclusion…


Existing Capability at Home

Australia’s space industry accounts for 0.8% of the international space sector, far below our total share of 1.8%. This indicates an under-performance in a market we have no reason not to excel at. However, with the space industry growing at 10.7% per annum, the opportunities are there for a massive shift in the market. While big names such as Airbus and SpaceX continue to be the powerhouses they are, many start-up companies and other organisations are popping around the world to fulfil new roles. Within Australia we have many such groups:

  • Academic groups, such as ACSER who last year launched the EC0: Australia’s first CubeSat as part of the QB50 program
  • Educational groups such as BLUEsat, one of the longest running student-led satellite engineering groups in the country with successes in robotics, high altitude design and satellite design
  • Start-up companies, ranging from new endeavours such as Spectral Aerospace and SpiralBlue to established companies like HEO robotics

Taofiq goes into more detail about a select number of established Australian space companies in a previous blog here

shameless plugs
No Shame. Credit: Pixar Animation and MemeGenerator

Australian Space Program Plays Supporting Character

With a space industry and community already loosely established and the focus on Australia’s interests at home, the Australian Space Program will not be the scientific and technological juggernaut of NASA or ESA. Instead, the agency aims to support the community through several key elements:

  • Development of a national strategy for space activities
  • Focus on new and emerging areas such as next-generation propulsion, launch, communication and sensors
  • Funding for both the agency and industry development
  • Treaties and international agreements to open up global communities and markets
  • Support for inter-departmental work
  • Facilitate new regulation for a changing space environment
  • Engage with schools to extend education in the space sector
  • Engage and support industry

In the 2018 federal budget, the following funds were allocated to achieve these goals:

  • $25 million in agency funding, aimed at establishing a dedicated government branch to regulate and stimulate Australia’s space capabilities
  • $16 million investment fund to support industry ventures which will both create new jobs and grow Australia’s space capabilities and exports
  • $260 million for a space-based augmentation system, aiming at improving national GNSS infrastructure (GPS for the rest of us) and advance our national infrastructure onto the world stage
We did what now?
We did what now? Credit: IB Times

The Future of Space

The primary function of the Australian Space Program is to support the existing and growing industry, which would seem a disappointment for those hoping for our very own NASA. However, the existence of a national space agency itself is a huge benefit to our nation’s space efforts, giving local and international groups a point of call and a national vote of confidence in our space industry’s potential that can have repercussions across the international market. This marks a great step forward for our country in a quickly growing and evolving market

Australia enters the space race - comic, Australian space industry
Can’t argue with that. Credit: Chris ‘Roy’ Taylor

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It has been another busy month at BLUEsat. Progress has been made with the NUMBAT rover in our Off-World Robotics Team, with work on connector boards, PCBs, the suspension system and a variety of new software features. The old BLUEtongue rover has been fixed and ready for use in rover driving sessions. The Satellite team has been hard at work too, with the recreation of a transmission module for the USRP in the Groundstation Team and new PCB designs for lithium batteries being ready for testing in the Power Team. The ADCS team is finishing the development of the reaction wheel system and shifting focus, and GreenSat has made progress in finalizing the design for the first prototype for a payload environment and establishing communication with BioSphere among other things.

Rover

From the Electrical Team

Connector board array on the NUMBAT roverHaving finished the preliminary testing of the core PCBs, we started marching towards the final stage of the electrical system assembly – building connector board arrays and under-rover wiring. Despite some minor setbacks, we managed to fit the first six connector boards into the front compartment, as well as a pair of side-module boards. Ongoing is the upgrade of the power module and manufacture of more PCBs. Progress has also been made in the science module, with all the sensors collected and member embarking on the circuit design. We look forward to the final appearance of the electrical system as the competition is fast approaching!

Jonathan Wong, Rover Electrical Chapter Lead

From the Mechanical Team

The team has been working hard on finishing the rovers mechanical tasks, in particular finalizing the design for our revised suspension system. Work has also begun on converting the mechanical arm from the BLUEtongue rover to work on our new modular platform. We hope to have this module up and running in the next few weeks for testing so stay tuned.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mech Chapter Lead

From the Software Team

The exam period always offers a moment of distraction, but the OWR software chapter powered on. A variety of features are entering testing and review before they are merged into the codebase such as a third steering system, ADC library in hardware, software emergency stop on the GUI and the CAN bus implementation that forms the backbone of NUMBAT.

As the competition nears and the university break meets us, we are striving to implement features, train and test to ensure success at the competition. The arrival of new members after the exam period has bolstered our numbers and has helped us begin working on the I²C library in hardware.

Simon Ireland, Rover Software Chapter Lead

From the Chief PilotBLUEtongue rover fixed and running (for the off-world robotics team)

Some members of the Rover team set aside some time to work on the old rover Bluetongue, and they have successfully managed to fix the issues. Just last week, the ERC team practised basic rover driving, setting everything up from scratch and charging the batteries. Weekly rover driving sessions will now take place as the team prepares for the upcoming competition.

Sajid Anower, Rover Chief Pilot

Satellite

From the Satellite CTO

Exams are over and the Satellite team is back in action. We are reviewing our mission plan and getting ready to represent BLUEsat at the upcoming ACSER CubeSat Workshop.

Timothy Guo, Satellite CTO

From the Groundstation Team

Using previous knowledge from the SDR work done last year, we recreated a basic transmission module for the USRP. We can transmit real-time sound data from microphones and sound files stored on the computer. We can then receive this data using a hand-held radio or even another SDR device. However, it is unknown how to get reception and transmission operating simultaneously which will need to be tested and developed for over the coming weeks.

Joerick Aligno, Groundstation Squad Lead

From the Satellite Power Team

Two new PCB designs for lithium chargers have been assembled and are ready for testing. The total number of charging designs being concurrently evaluated is now three, each based on different charging solution chips. They will be compared against each other to determine their performance and suitability to BLUEsat satellite power needs. The MPPT project for solar panels has been temporarily shelved as both members working on it are going on exchange, but we hope to revive it in the near future as the project has been extensively documented so work can be continued upon it in future.

William Chen, Satellite Power Squad Lead

From the ADCS Team

Development of the reaction wheel system is wrapping up, and the ADCS team is now shifting their focus towards developing a magnetorquer-based ADCS. Back in 2015, a proof-of-concept model was constructed back to demonstrate detumbling, but the project was shelved shortly after. This project has now been revived, with efforts focused on developing a CubeSat-ready magnetorquer-based ADCS contained on a single PCB.

Mark Yeo, ADCS Squad Lead

From the GreenSat Team

Due to some mishaps with the biology section of our group we have been working hard on establishing communication with BioSphere and making sure the requirements for the payloads environment variables are still consistent with what we had before. We have made great progress with finishing our design for the first prototype of our payload environment, and have also been working hard on the electrical components, namely the power supply and the control circuits for our sensors.

Rajiv Narayan, Greensat Team Member

Operations & Exec

Secretary’s UpdateAmateur Radio Workshop Presentation at BLUEsat

It’s been another great month for BLUESat, with new members joining our ranks and getting started on tasks in the various teams. Radio workshops have begun to run to help interested BLUEsat members obtain amateur standard and advanced radio licenses. The board games night was a great success as usual, but look out for future events where we’re thinking of mixing things up! Speaking of other events, the end of semester celebration last Saturday went really well and may become a recurring event in the future.

Anita Smirnov, Secretary

President’s Update

June was a fantastic month for BLUEsat, and July has much more exciting events in store for us to look forward to!

A few of our members will be presenting at the CubeSat Innovation Workshop hosted by ACSER in early July. It will be an event with the aim to share results and news of current missions, plans for future missions and other ideas. There will be a multitude of wonderful presentations from current missions, government, academia start-ups as well as student projects to look forward to!

A few members will also be attending the Aerospace Futures 2018 Conference in Canberra hosted by the Australian Youth Aerospace Association in mid-July. It is a 3-day event, with a fantastic schedule consisting of a myriad of prestigious industry speakers and focuses on targeting undergraduates, postgraduates and young professionals to attend and celebrate the Australian aerospace industry. Over the course of three days, there will be a variety of events including presentations from some of the biggest figures within the Australian Space Sector, a showcase of space systems, Ariel and Ground exhibitions, various challenges and many more.

Raghav Hariharan, President

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We have a space program. After decades of lobbying both for and against, the Australian government announced their intentions to restructure the disparate government departments involved with coordinating a national space policy into one entity. This left many people excited about the possibilities, but the question remains: what does this mean for Australian space? Will we be sending the first kangaroo into space or are we just tagging along for the ride?

The Australian Space Agency comic
Seems Legit. Credit: Wikipedia

Australia’s Space Conundrum

Ever since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, space has been an important political and economic resource. Initially the political battleground between the Soviet Union and America, state-sponsored space programs gave us gigantic rockets such as the Soyuz, Saturn V and the Space Shuttle. For a long time, this was considered the norm: every launch cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, which left smaller countries such as Australia unable to develop their own space capacity. For the longest time, there was seemingly no real reason to do so: why would tax-payers fund a satellite to study worlds for purely scientific curiosity when said money could go towards improving the lives of people on Earth?

Simpsons Nine Billion Dollarydoos?
Nine Billion Dollarydoos? Credit: 20th Century Fox

And it was that which made Australia play a small part in the international space race and then faded into silence. As this happened, the space race ended and the international community began to develop applications which could benefit civilians directly. GPS, communications and remote sensing began to change the world we lived in all the way up until today we use space technology in almost every aspect of life. As technology began to shrink and new, cheaper launch capacities began to open up, it became possible to build satellites and launch vehicles for far cheaper. Now Australia had a vested interest in space and the money to act upon it. The question became could we truly rely on international support for a vital part of our lives, or should we take initiative and capitalise on this growing high-tech market?

Modern Life: A Space-Faring Civilisation

The public belief that space is a niche market is an outright lie. Space has matured in the last 60 years from a scientific curiosity to an established technology that plays a huge role in society and the economy. Space plays a vital role in:

  • Weather forecasts, allowing us to respond to extreme weather events such as bushfires, floods and storms
  • Satellite communications, including Foxtel, Imparja, the National Broadband Network and general telephony, without which the country reliant on a limited number of undersea cables for international communications
  • Smartphones apps such as Google Maps, Uber and all other apps that utilise GPS
  • Telecommunications, which play a vital role in education and information infrastructure for isolation communities
  • Precision agriculture and space-based navigation, allowing for efficient growth and delivery of food and other supplies
  • Mining exploration and by extension the major economic benefits mining has both on remote communities and Australia as a whole
  • Air traffic communication and navigation
  • Financial transactions which rely on GPS satellites
  • Defence communications, intelligence and GPS, which are crucial parts of any modern defence capability
satellite communication, australian space
And that list is growing. Credit: Synertone Communication Corporation

According to the SIAA White Paper: Advancing Australia In Space, Australia spends $3-4 Billion on space services that are imported from other countries. This is money that goes to creating jobs in other countries around the world, denying Australia the ability to build a new industry and develop our own self-sustaining space sector.


Will our tireless community get their wish? Will Australia get their space agency? Tune in next time for The Australian Space Program: Part 2!


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At BLUEsat UNSW, the Off-World Robotics Software Team uses the Robotics Operating System (ROS) as the basis for much of our code. The modularity, communications framework, and existing packages it provides are all factors in this, but another key benefit is its “transform” system. The transform library, which is often referred to as “tf”, provides a standardised way of managing the position of your robot[s] in a ROS system, as well as the moving components of said robots and features in the environment. This article is the first of a series that will introduce you to ROS tf.

The tf system operates by providing a tree of co-ordinate systems, called “frames”. Each frame is an independent co-ordinate system, with an origin that can move relative to its parent in the tree. A common example of this is localising a robot to its environment. To do this you would need at least two frames: one frame for your robot’s local area – lets call it “map”, and another for your robot itself – lets call it “base_link”. In order for ROS tf to localise your robot on the map we need to publish a transform between the “map” and “base_link” frames. Such a transform will often be published by a SLAM package such as hector_slam or an EKF package such as that provided in the ROS navigation packages.

BLUEsat's BLUEtongue Rover represented as a 3D model in RViz with each transform being marked by a set of axes.
ROS’s RViz tool can be used to display 3D representations of your transform tree. Here we see the BLUEtongue Rover with each set of axes representing a transform in our tree.

For every link in the tree we need to provide ROS with a “transform”, that defines the relative position of the two frames. This is where ROS’s modularity kicks in, as you are not restricted to a single node publishing all of your transforms. Instead, as with normal ROS topics, you can have many nodes providing different transforms! This means that you could have one node publishing your robot’s position in your map co-ordinate system, and another node handling the rotation of your rover’s arm. ROS tf then puts these together for you, so that you could, for example, calculate the location for the end of your arm in the map co-ordinate system.

Transforms are time stamped which means that nodes can deal with temporary data loss or lag and do accurate mapping calculations. It also means that they can be recorded with rosbag for future playback. However the time-stamping can also create some issues, which I shall talk about later in the article.

The Justification for ROS TF

So why is this useful? Say I have a LIDAR on a gimbal, and I need to know the positions of its point cloud relative to my rover’s centre of mass. But the LIDAR only publishes a plain of point information relative to its own position. Furthermore the angle of the gimbal is controlled by a separate system, to the one publishing the LIDAR data. Sound familiar?

In a traditional solution the code that reads the LIDAR data, must be aware of the position of the gimbal and manually transform its output to its desired co-ordinate system. This means that the gimbal must know to provide that data, and your system must have a way of syncing the timing of the inputs.

In ROS all of this work is done for you: the LIDAR driver publishes a header indicating that it is in a co-ordinate system who’s parent is the top of the gimbal, and the instant the data was recorded at. The system responsible for controlling the gimbal publishes a transform, indicating its position at that instant. And any system that needs the two pieces of data in a common co-ordinate system, such as that of the base of the rover, can simply run the data through a standard filter provided by ROS to get the information it needs. The video below shows our original BLUEtongue 1.0 Mars Rover doing exactly that.

Admittedly if only one system is using those two pieces of data there may not be a massive advantage, but imagine if you had many sensors on top of the gimbal, or many separate systems controlling moving parts…

The Transform Tree

As mentioned previously ROS transforms exist in a tree structure. This has some important implications for how we can structure our graph. The first of these is that a transform can only have one parent. So ROS tf won’t solve more complex graphs. This is especially relevant if you are using something like ROS’s Joint State Publisher to publish the position of joints on your robot as ROS won’t do calculations for multi-link joints. You’ll need to do that yourself.

It also means that if one link in your tree fails you won’t be able to do transforms across that gap as there is no redundancy. However, the system is reasonably resilient. You can do a transform between any two connected points, even if the rest of the graph is not fully connected.

Part of the BLUEtongue 2.0 Rover's Transform (TF) Tree in ROS's RQT tool. ROS tf
Part of the BLUEtongue 2.0 Mars Rover’s Transform (TF) Tree displayed in ROS’s RQT tool.

As well as resilience, the tf tree does offer several advantages. As it’s a tree, each node only needs to know about the two co-ordinate frames it is publishing between; dramatically reducing the complexity of any publisher. This is especially useful in a distributed system with many moving parts, or even a ROS environment with multiple robots!  Furthermore if you follow ROS conventions for naming your frames you can easily combine 3rd party tools, such as one of the many ROS packages used for localisation or calculating the position of your robots joints, without having to modify them in any way.

The Timing Problem

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the ROS tf system is not without its issues and difficulties. Foremost of these is ensuring that you have the transforms you need when you need them. Normally any data you want to transform will have a standard ROS header as part of its message. This header not only identifies the frame, but also the time the data was received. Lets look at our example with the LIDAR gimbal to see why this is important. In that scenario, by the time the LIDAR data  is ready to publish on our ROS network, the gimbal would have moved on. However, we want to do our transforms using the position at the time the data was collected. The timestamp allows us to do this.

But, unsurprisingly, ROS only keeps a limited buffer of transforms in memory. This can cause problems if one of your transform publishers suffers from lag, or your data takes a long time to process before a transformation is applied. Usually your system will need to be able to cope with dropping frames of data, although there are other ways to handle this that I will discuss later in the series.

Next Steps

Well that’s it for now. I hope the first part of this guide to the ROS tf system has proven useful to you! Keep an eye on our blog for my next article, where I’ll be looking at tools and libraries provided by ROS that take advantage of the tf system. In the meantime you may want to take a look at our guide to ROS debugging, which introduces some of the tools we are going to be looking at, or if you are feeling impatient you can skip ahead and look at the official tutorials. If you are interested in learning more about the robotics we do at BLUEsat UNSW you could also take a look at the Off-World Robotics page.


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This has been an eventful month for BLUEsat UNSW, with our previous President and Secretary, Helena Kertesz and Harry J.E Day,  stepping down from their executive positions at BLUEsat. The EGM welcomed Raghav Hariharan as the new President, Anita Smirnov as the new Secretary and Bohan Deng as the new Arc Delegate.

Rover

From the Rover CTOpwm, elec, electrical, rover, red, green

The NUMBAT rover has been accepted to ERC! The rover team has been working hard towards this years competition and being accepted is a very important milestone.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mech Chapter Lead

From the Electrical Team

It’s been another PCB-focused work cycle. Following the arrival of all the required parts for the Generic PCB at the start of the month, we were able to kick-start our first volume production of it. A total of 3 were made and verified to be working, after some proper debugging work. They not only enabled more comprehensive testing of NUMBAT, but also made up for the PCBs that had been broken during previous testing. We have also seen acceleration in the science module design, with some sensors being tested and more being purchased.

Jonathan Wong, Rover Electrical Chapter Leadbeauty, computer, software

From the Software Team

Exciting things are happening. Our old ground station (computer in a briefcase) has been upgraded to a brand new, proper, more portable case.

We have been continuously testing NUMBAT driving and operation of the CAN bus, with testing for AR tag detection and ROS node abstraction happening very soon. A bunch of GUI features are also being finalized, including visualization for the battery, current driving mode and a nice software E-stop.

Simon Ireland, Rover Software Chapter Lead

From the Mechanical Team

The team has been making great strides in preparing the final rover systems such as the rovers module boxes and side mount handles. This next month will see us complete the mechanical arm and make final changes to our designs.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mech Chapter Lead

Satellitegroundstation, computer

From the Groundstation Team

After a few problems with the Groundstation computers remote accessibility and GNURadio. We decided to re-image the computer. The Groundstation computer is now remote accessible and GNURadio can be run from home.

On a side-note, Ignatius Rivaldi (Aldi) was able to receive a signal from the weather satellite, NOAA-19, using the Quadrifilar Helicoidal (QFH) Antenna. His setup on the Scientia Building allowed us to receive the image of the Earth at an altitude of 850km.

Joerick Aligno, Groundstation Squad Lead

From the Satellite Power Team

Huge steps in the right direction this month! The MPPT system is progressing nicely, and revision 2 of it should be in the works shortly. One battery charger is being debugged and has partial functionality whilst two other designs have their PCBs on order. After these sub-subsystems are all complete, next step is integrating them into one unified power subsystem!

Harry Price, Satellite Power Squad Lead

From the ADCS TeamADCS, satellite, team, wiring, beautiful

Development on the reaction wheel system is wrapping up, with performance testing showing promising results so far. Several experiments have been run to measure the system’s performance executing tasks such as detumbling and pointing. Further tests and software development are required, but initial results seem to show performance comparable to existing commercial products.

Mark Yeo, ADCS Squad Lead

Operations & Exec

President’s Update

Hello!
My name is Raghav, and following Helena’s decision to step down from her role as president I was elected to take up the role.
I am currently in my second year undertaking a double degree in Mechatronics combined with Computer Science.
I simply adore space, I love learning about all the stars, the countless number of planets out there, black holes, supernovas, as well as the fantastic theories people have put forth!

I joined BLUEsat early last year because of the fact they were an awesome space engineering society filled with amazing people with similar interests. I became Arc Delegate and a member of the OWRS software team soon after and began to spend a great deal of my time with BLUEsat. During this time I learnt a substantial amount about how to run a society by observing all the other executive members. Now that I have the honour and opportunity to be the President of BLUEsat, I will put my best foot forwards to keep BLUEsat progressing and provide an opportunity for all of our members to learn, as well as to improve their academic and professional skills and capabilities.

We’ve got an exciting and busy half an year ahead of us so stay tuned!

Raghav Hariharan, President

Secretary’s Update

Hello, my name is Anita and I’ve been elected as BLUEsat’s new Secretary! I’m also in my second year studying Mechatronics. I joined BLUEsat at the start of this year (joining the Rover Software and the Media Team) and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! This is such an amazing society with incredible people, I’m constantly learning from them and being amazed by everyone’s skills and capabilities! Space is so fascinating and meeting people with a similar interest to you and working with them on various space projects is such an awesome experience.  I can’t wait to continue learning at BLUEsat, helping other’s join this incredible society and for all the good times ahead!

This has been a great month for BLUEsat, with new team members joining our various teams, and great success with our board game night last week, with pizza and fantastic games like Scythe and Funemployed completing the night! There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks at BLUEsat, with more new member introductions, another board game night, as well as our end of semester celebration!

Anita Smirnov, Secretary

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“Oh, do you want to go join NASA?” has become a tiresome question that people ask whenever I and other students mention our interest in joining the space industry. For most people, NASA simply is the only group that they know are working on space engineering and science. It seems inconceivable that Australia of all countries could host a space engineer, so surely we’ll be going overseas to join NASA, or maybe ESA (the European Space Agency)?

But this is a misconception. The space industry consists of more than just national space agencies – about 70% of the space industry is made up of private businesses building, launching and selling services for rockets and satellites. This is the case in Australia as well, with Australia’s space industry being worth in the ballpark of $3-4 billion. All built without having a space agency, and without building rockets and satellites! And while now Australia will have its own space agency starting on the 1st of July this year, this agency will be built to support and grow Australia’s private space industry. This agency will help build internationally competitive companies that will introduce technologies that help people here on Earth.

NASA, Australia, space, earth, space industry
Australia from space. Source: NASA

So what might these companies look like? Today, we’ll be looking at 3 companies worth keeping an eye on.

FluroSat

Flurosat, team, CEO
The FluroSat team, with Anastasia Volkova (Founder and CEO) in bottom centre, Source: FluroSat

FluroSat is a agtech (agriculture technology) startup based in Eveleigh, next to Redfern station here in Sydney. Founded in 2016 by Anastasia Volkova, they use satellite and drone imagery combined with IoT sensors to help farmers save money and improve crop yields. They’ve raised about $3 million from private investment and grant programs so far. They are currently aiding large scale farms in Australia, and are seeking to expand worldwide.

But hang on, wasn’t this post supposed to be about Australia’s space industry? How is FluroSat a space company, outside of the name?

I’m listing FluroSat here not because they specifically are a space company, but rather because they use space technologies (satellite images in particular) to serve their customers. Space companies ultimately exist because of companies like FluroSat that purchase space services, add their own value, and then sell this on to their own customers. This concept of a chain of businesses adding value to each others products and services, starting with raw materials and ending with a valuable product, is called a value chain. And indeed, part of what finally got the Australian Space Agency established was recognising that the space value chain doesn’t end with rockets and satellites, but also includes products and services. These might include things like crop analytics, satellite navigation systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Back to FluroSat – they’re currently hiring! Be sure to check out their careers page!

Fleet Space

Fleet, space, connect, data, satellite, space industry
Fleet Space’s portal can connect hundreds of devices within a 15km range, and make their data available anywhere in the world via satellite. Source: Fleet Space

Fleet is a more along the lines of what you’d expect a space company to be. Located in Adelaide, Fleet was founded in 2015 by Flavia Tata Nardini, Matthew Pearson, and Matthew Tetlow. Their mission is to create a satellite-based globe spanning communications network for the billions of IoT devices now coming online. They’re currently doing this using other satellite providers, and plan to launch two of their own satellites later this year. They ultimately plan to operate a constellation of 100 such satellites to complete their IoT communications network. These satellites will be built by Pumpkin, a US small satellite manufacturing company. This allows Fleet to focus on the payload (the part of the satellite that serves their customers), and on ground terminals. They’ve so far raised $5.5 million from private investors and from the South Australian government.

Fleet is hiring as well! Check out their careers page.

Gilmour Space Technologies

Despite what we might say about satellites and satellite applications, ultimately when people think of space, they think of rockets. And Gilmour Space Technologies is the leading Australian rocket company. Founded in 2012 to design and build spacecraft replicas and simulators, Gilmour became involved in rocketry in 2014. Their rockets use hybrid technology, using 3D printed solid fuel with a separate source of oxidiser. They recently did a test fire of their rocket, the video for which is shown above. Our Rover CTO previously did a blog post on hybrid rocket technology, which you can read about here. Gilmour have also received $5 million in private investment, and are using this to launch their first rocket to the edge of space in early 2019 from Queensland, followed by their first orbital launch in late 2020.

Gilmour isn’t currently hiring, but be sure to keep an eye on their careers page just in case they announce any openings.


Hopefully this leaves you knowing a little bit more about the growing space scene here in Australia. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out tonight’s talk by Jason Held, CEO of Saber Astronautics and member of the review panel whose recommendations lead to Australia getting a space agency.

The three companies I’ve listed here all gave talks in last years’ CubeSat Workshop, hosted by the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER). ACSER will be holding another CubeSat workshop this year, and Gilmour have already confirmed they will be giving a talk. BLUEsat will be attending, with some of our members giving talks as well. It’s a great opportunity to network with members of the Australian space industry, so we hope to see you there!


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The High Altitude Balloon Team’s final project objective is to design and build a balloon payload that holds and stabilises a ground-facing radar for surveying purposes. To achieve this, we have to collect abundant amounts of data to help us design a payload enclosure and stabilisation system that will function in the intended operating environment.

Launch 2 of the Balloon Team yielded average quality data. It showed us some trends and a portion of the general behaviour of atmospheric conditions and our payload’s response. Unfortunately, our sampling rate was 2Hz so the highest frequency we could detect was 1Hz. Higher frequency oscillations—which is predominant according to video footage—could not be registered. Despite the limitations of the data collected, we still analysed it as it captured lower frequency oscillations and provided good practise for future data analyses. Future launches will sample data at a frequency of 200Hz.

Analysis of Data

A short-time Fourier transform was performed on the acceleration data in the x-axis (the x-y plane is the horizontal plane) with a time window of 128 seconds (248 data points) and a 64 second overlap between windows. This was then plotted as a 3D surface with logarithmic elevation that is also simultaneously marked out by colour. The resulting plot is shown below.

Graph representing data logged by the high altitude balloon sensor payload

 

As can be seen from above, there is a slight peak at around t = 9000 samples corresponding to the ratio f/F = 0.19 where F is our sampling frequency of 2Hz. This means at around 16km altitude, there were stronger-than-usual oscillations of 2*0.19 = 0.38Hz. An oscillation frequency of 0.38Hz implies one complete swaying motion every 2.63 seconds, which is comparatively slow and gentle.

At around sample no. 13000, which was taken at 23 km altitude, the amplitude of the signals becomes much higher over the entire frequency spectrum. This is due to the balloon burst and the subsequent chaotic descent during which the payload shook around violently. This was caused by high falling velocity and non-uniform opening of the parachute. However, our mission objective requires stabilisation only while the payload is suspended from the balloon. After the balloon stops providing lift, we desire only that it falls at or slower than 12m/s. Everything else is redundant.

What We Did Right

Although we made mistakes in the lead-up to, during, and after Launch 2, we also did quite a few things right. We will be replicating what we did right for future launches. Telemetry is one area that we believe was done mostly well. The data we got back is a bit iffy but it generally shows a trajectory that is within expectations. It’s also interesting to superimpose altitude against acceleration so we can see the different forces acting on the payload throughout its journey, as below.

A graph describing the acceleration data relative to the balloon's altitude

As is apparent from above, the point where the payload begins to drop in altitude corresponds to massive increases in forces on the payload. This immediately tells us the balloon burst was a chaotic event (confirmed by video). The z-acceleration also switches from oscillating around positive 1g to negative 1g making it clear the payload flipped upside down. This was by design as our payload mounted the parachute at the bottom of the payload enclosure. About halfway through its descent, the payload’s shaking significantly reduced. We believe this is due to a rapid transition from low-density to high-density air, which stabilised the descent by fully opening the parachute.

Although the ascent data was generally good, data of the descent phase is highly suspect due to extremely large errors between each sampling point and very sporadic data logging. Having few data points reduces the reliability of whatever data we’re able to retrieve. We hope to improve our telemetry data by changing to a more reliable and accurate data logger.

Another thing we did quite well is enclosure insulation. We had both external and internal thermometers on our payload. At the most extreme, they measured over 100 degrees difference between the external and internal temperatures. As electronics and batteries begin to fail at the sorts of external temperatures we measured at high altitude (-67 degrees Celsius), we were pleased that our insulation kept the internal temperature at a comfortable 30-40 degrees C. We will definitely be using similar insulation on future launches.

The Next Balloon Launch

The data we’d collected from Launch 2 is not terribly useful but we nonetheless have a mission plan for the next launch. Passive stabilisation is the area of focus for the next launch. Passive stabilisation means there is no external intervention to stabilise the system, i.e. no motors or moving parts to steer the system back into the desired position. A simple example of passive stabilisation is a pendulum; when the mass is moved from its equilibrium position, it will want to move back to it after you let go, and if you let it swing for a while, it will eventually come to rest at its equilibrium position. This is an example of passive stabilisation as the system stabilised itself without needing external intervention.

Passive stabilisation is an important part of the overall stabilisation scheme as it simplifies the active stabilisation system’s job by damping oscillatory motion of all frequencies. Two methods of passive stabilisation are being explored for the next launch:

  1. The first involves extending point masses outward and downward from the bottom four corners of the payload enclosure. This increases the moment of inertia in the horizontal plane and about the vertical axes making it harder for the wind to sway and rotate the payload.
  2. The second is a powered gyroscope-type system contained inside the payload enclosure with the device-to-be-stabilised’s motion coupled to the rotor’s, thus matching the latter’s attitude. In theory, the rotor’s attitude—and therefore, our device’s—should remain constant as long as it maintains high angular momentum. A motor will continuously be driving the rotor so it spins throughout the balloon’s flight.

Conclusion

Overall, we do not consider Launch 2 a 100% success. However, our team is all the richer for having done it. We’ve been taught a valuable lesson on good data collection as our analyses were less than ideal because of flawed collection. In spite of that and regardless of how useful the analyses were, simply doing them is fantastic preparation for analysing the good data that we know we’ll get from our next launch.

We also learnt a lot about mission preparation and execution. Launch 2 was a bit rushed; there were a few hiccups during the balloon inflation and our schedule slipped multiple times. We are now aware of the need to be better prepared not just for the planned sequence of events but also likely contingencies that may arise. This might not eliminate the hiccups on our next launch but it’ll certainly allow us to deal with them more efficiently.

On a more casual note, the trip was just plain fun. We had lively conversations with each other and even had time for board games. Although I may have given you the impression that a balloon launch is stressful and scrupulous, the reality is it was actually quite relaxing. It was like playtime except instead of children’s toys, we played with science-y gadgets and a high-altitude balloon. I, along with everyone on the team, look forward immensely to our next balloon launch where more fun awaits!


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It’s been another busy month at BLUEsat UNSW. This month’s major achievements include our breakthrough with the steering module of the NUMBAT rover, the creation of a successful SDR radio player in the groundstation team and progress on a new magnetorquer project in the ADCS team!

Rover

From the Rover CTO

It’s been a fantastic Month for the team and we have reached some major milestones. Earlier this month we received our results for our ERC proposal submission scoring an impressive 24/25. Since then the team have been working hard to put together the preliminary design review document.

We also have been awarded a large grant from the NSW Government of the Chief Scientist and Engineer towards our rover. We hope to put this generous donation to good use.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mech Chapter Lead

From the Electrical Team

This month we continued our work on a few of the PCBs. After verification of its correct working and some initial configurations last month, the testing of the Generic PCB was handed over to the software members, who have developed working codes for the driving system. In the next phase, bulk production and further testing will be carried out. Progress has also been made in the science module and drive module PCB, which includes finalisation on major design requirements and some research into circuit design. Beyond these, we have also come up with the preliminary wiring scheme of the rover electrical system. Following this, improvements in the power delivery and grounding will be made as the next step.

Jonathan Wong, Rover Electrical Chapter Lead

From the Software Team

Another wonderful month for rover software has seen a breakthrough in testing and operating the new steering module for NUMBAT. In the process, we have also been able to verify other fundamental systems, namely embedded libraries and embedded-CAN implementation.

Elsewhere, progress has been made with altering the ROS library for the Linux-side of our ROS-over-CAN implementation, a lovely collection of GUI widgets/featurettes are in the works and development of the manipulator arm control system has begun!

Simon Ireland, Rover Software Chapter Lead

From the Mechanical Team

The mechanical team has been working on small updates to the rovers suspension system, replacing the old version with our newer, more rigid design. We have also been putting together a prototype of our mechanical manipulator arm and our science module.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mechanical Chapter Lead

From the Chief Pilot

The older BLUEtongue rover is still under maintenance. We are in the process of debugging the steering system after replacing one of the motors and the arms movement. Some small calibrations to the system are underway to allow us to keep training and testing this coming month.

Sajid Anower, Rover Chief Pilot

Satellite

From the ADCS Team

In the Reaction Wheel System project, the manufacturing and programming of electronics are just wrapping up, ready for integration and testing of the RWS during the following weeks.

We also have a new magnetorquer project that’s just coming out of the research phase and is now looking to implement a magnetorquer-based ADCS on a CubeSat PCB!

Mark Yeo, ADCS Squad Lead

From the Groundstation Team

Progress has been made in implementing the receive subsystem into the new SDR groundstation.

We have successfully created an SDR radio player, capable of receiving FM radio station emissions (commercial radio stations) and playing the audio. This code can be altered to use the data in different ways, for example saving the audio into a .wav file and outputting to a file, which will be used in later stages to process the data.

We will attempt to receive satellite signals using the current code when there is a pass.

Joerick Aligno, Groundstation Squad Lead

From the High Altitude Balloon Team

The HAB team at BLUEsat kicked off April by initiating new members in the workings of a high-altitude balloon mission.

Data and pictures from the recent flight were analysed. Studying the motion data, like in the attached image, will provide an understanding needed to design separation, stabilisation and parachute deployment systems.

The month concluded with a full team meeting, including with our supervisor Elias, where team lead Adithya set out the expected goals and milestones for the next launch.

Adithya Rajendran, Balloon Squad Lead

From the Satellite Power Team

The past month has seen further progress in the power system of the CubeSat.

Within the separate subsystems, there are a few updates since last month. Slow but steady progress is being made to debug the MPPT (Maximum power point tracking) system.

Debugging is continuing for one of the battery charging systems and one of the other competing designs has its PCB ready to print and its components have been ordered. The thermal subsystem is in its infancy and potential components are being researched. A CAD model has also been drawn up and can be seen in the attached photos.

Harry Price, Satellite Power Squad Lead

BLUEsat Operations & Exec

Secretary’s Update

Its been a busy month for the society with progress across all our teams. On the social events side we’ve had more successful board games nights, whilst from an outreach perspective, we have some interesting things planned for next semester. We will also hopefully be organising team merch soon.

We will be holding an EGM in the near future so some roles will be changing hands, including mine as I graduate at the end of the semester. Consequently, this will probably be my last monthly update as secretary. Its been great and I wish good luck to the incoming executive!

Harry  J.E Day, Secretary

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Modular designs are not a new concept, in fact they are used just about everywhere from your humble desktop computer to scaffolding on the side of a building. But have you ever seen a modular Mars rover? Well BLUEsat’s new NUMBAT Rover is just that.

The chasis of the NUMBAT Mars Rover ready to be wired.

CAD Render of the NUMBAT robot's chasis. CAD render of the NUMBAT Rover, showing modules being inserted into the chasis.
As you can see in the images above, the NUMBAT rover has a series of “Module Slots” which allow for different systems to be easily placed inside the robot.  These modules can be placed at any point inside the rover, there are no limitations stating that the power supply or on-board computer has to be in a specific location.

It should not be understated how useful this is from a design perspective. The modular system allows for all rover systems to be developed independently, without worrying whether they will interfere with other parts.  As long as the components can fit within a standard size module box, which come in a range of lengths, it can be assembled into the rover.  This also opens up the possibility of having “hot swap” modules, which can be rapidly taken out and replaced depending on the rovers needs.  For example between competition tasks the modules for scientific testing and core drilling could be swapped for additional battery modules and a manipulator arm.

But that’s not all this modular design has to offer, it also means that the rover can fulfil a large range of different operating modes just by swapping out systems. Instead of having to design multiple Mars rovers, one modular platform can fit a variety of tasks. Some examples of this include:

  • Stationary science mission – If the wheel modules and arm modules are not installed, their places may be filled with different scientific modules, greatly enhancing the capabilities of the Rover and allowing it to serve as a scientific hub for different experiments.
  • Assembly line worker – If scientific modules and drilling modules are replaced with additional manipulator arms, potentially with inbuilt tools, the Rover can be repurposed as an assembly line machine. The addition of autonomous software and drive capabilities would allow the Rover to function in most situations.
  • Telecommunications relay – addition of multiple antenna could allow the Rover to become a relay for a mars based telecommunications network.

Overall, the BLUEsat Off-World Robotics Team is very proud of our modular Rover and can’t wait to see how it will perform at this years European Rover Challenge.


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It’s been another busy month at BLUEsat UNSW. This month’s major achievements include our GreenSat team’s success at the EngSoc pitch fair, and completion of the NUMBAT Mars Rover’s core mechanical construction.

Members of BLUEsat's rover software team including Elliot Smith, William Miles and Sajid Ibne Anower testing software designed to drive the new NUMBAT rover in UNSW's Willis Annex Maker Space.

Rover

From the Rover CTO

BLUEsat UNSW has now enrolled in the European Rover Challenge (ERC), commencing in September of this year. The whole team is looking forward to the competition and getting the NUMBAT rover operational in time.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mech Chapter Lead

From the Software Team

A excellent month for the rover software team has seen us finalising many components of our system. In embedded, we have made progress with testing hardware libraries for the ADC and PWM modules on the robot’s generic PCBs, as well as developing parts of our CAN bus solution. In backend systems, we are implementing a new driving system to take advantage of our transition to 4-wheel steering which will hopefully be finished and testing within the week. Finally, we have also added a nice little widget to the GUI that will let us know where our rover is facing during its tasks.

Simon Ireland, Rover Software Chapter Lead

From the Mechanical Team

William Miles and Thomas Reneberg carrying the NUMBAT rover with its suspension sytem full assembled.

This month saw the rover mechanical team finalise the manufacturing of the core NUMBAT systems.  With the Chassis, suspension, wheels and steering systems all assembled together, we can begin working on some of the rovers smaller modules.

Thomas Renneberg, Robotics CTO & Mechanical Chapter Lead

From the Electrical Team

It’s been a busy month for BLUEsat’s rover electrical team, with a host of different tasks going on. At the conclusion of the on-boarding workshop earlier this month, we were pleased to see the team doubled in size. A couple of new design projects have unfolded: the drive module PCB which interfaces between the generic PCB and motors; and science module PCB, which is aimed to be a high-tech soil analyser. Testing and assembly are also under way for the NUMBAT rover. The Generic PCB, the brain for almost every module, has successfully delivered PWM signal to a wheel motor via an array of connector boards, which means the drive system is ready for integration. A small part of the team have also been focused on maintenance, repair and review for the old rover, where they gain a lot of new engineering experience.

Jonathan Wong, Rover Electrical Chapter Lead

From the Chief Pilot

The NUMBAT Rover's Generic PCB connected to one of its wheel modules on a desk for electrical testing.
After a bit of panic when our old Battery charger failed, our new charger has arrived and with it Rover training has been resumed. Some of the systems on the old Rover are beginning to show their age,so we are working on porting them over to the new NUMBAT rover for testing.

Sajid Anower, Rover Chief Pilot

Satellite

From the ADCS Team

Part of a prototype satellite reaction wheel. It features four spining mental disks.
Development on the satellite Reaction Wheel System (RWS) has been going swimmingly, with all RWS mechanical components being manufactured and assembled (pictured). Also, PCBs for the RWS and supporting circuitry have been ordered and are currently being manufactured.

In other news, the ADCS team is currently also researching magnetorquer systems – more on this next month!

Mark Yeo, ADCS Squad Lead

From the High Altitude Balloon Team

This month kicked off with a resoundingly successful high-altitude balloon mission. The launch of our payload delivered amazing pictures and valuable data from over 23km altitude.

Development for the next launch has commenced, with the telemetry project already showing progress in transmitting data and pictures over radio. Other projects include manufacturing an integrated enclosure, building an Arduino-based separation mechanism and implementing payload-stabilisation techniques.

Adithya Rajendran, Balloon Squad Lead

From the GreenSat Team

Recently, BLUEsat’s GreenSat team was offered the opportunity to pitch our project at the project and pitch fair 2018, where we won Most Innovative pitch. Also, we have finally been approved for PC2 lab space in Biosciences building. Meanwhile, work on the darkbox and hotbox is continuing thanks to our new members

Ben Koschnick accepting the prize for "Most Inovative" on stage at the UNSW Engineering Society Pitch Fair.

Ben Koschnick, Greensat Squad Lead

From the Satellite Power Team

This month has been busy for the Satellite Power team, with multiple parts of the system being developed. New members have been inducted and are working on some projects as an intro to BLUEsat and electrical engineering on satellites. The main power system has been making steady progress.

The dummy load is operational. There are 3 competing battery chargers in the works all in different stages: one is in the debugging phase, one’s PCB is being designed in Altium, and one is still in its infancy. The Maximum Power Point Tracking PCB is also slowly being debugged.

There has also been some preliminary work on a thermal system, with some fantastic hand drawn engineering drawings being produced. (see photos)A hand-drawn engineering drawing for a thermal system.

Harry Price, Satellite Power Squad Lead

From the Groundstation Team

The Groundstation team has had slow progress for the past month. Mostly trouble installing GNURadio onto to Macbooks, however we have moved past that stage. We have successfully used the USB dongles to receive and plan to move towards using the USRP over the coming weeks.

Joerick Aligno, Groundstation Squad Lead

BLUEsat Operations & Exec

Secretary’s UpdateBLUEsat UNSW members relax after a busy workday to play board games at one our regular social events.

After a resoundingly successful orientation day the focus for this month has been on settling in our new members. We even had a few newbies interested in joining our media and events team and are hopping to revitalise our school outreach program! (Watch this space for more details).

Our social events have continued to be a resounding success with a massive turn out at our most recent board games night! A massive shout-out to Joshua Khan and Taofiq Huq for making these such a big success. Our social events bring together members from all parts of the society and help foster the exchange of ideas and contacts.

Harry  J.E Day, Secretary

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