UNSW Canberra space spin-off to build air traffic control constellation

Australia

Skykraft, a space services company spun out of UNSW Canberra, has been tapped by the ACT government to design and build a constellation of 200 small satellites.

The Territory government has chipped in $1 million to build the fleet of mini-sats with global air traffic management capabilities, supported by $1.2 million in additional cash and in-kind support from UNSW, Skykraft, and ASX-listed defence contractor XTEK.

The ‘SmallSats’ constellation will be spread out across different orbits, providing global coverage and the reliability needed for air traffic management.

UNSW Canberra’s team of more than 50 engineers and academic staff will be involved in the project, following on from their work designing, building and operating the Buccaneer, M1, M2PF and M2 CubeSats.

James Prior, managing director of Skykraft and former MD of Airbus Defence & Space Intelligence Australia, said the government’s Priority Investment Program grant will allow the company to immediately begin conceptualisation and design work on the mini-sat fleet.

The early definition work establishes a tangible product for supply chain development and the creation of new space capabilities in the ACT, he added.

“Importantly, this has enabled Skykraft to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Spanish multinational technology company Indra for the design, manufacture and operation of this SmallSat constellation,” Prior said.

“I am excited about where this will lead. It places Skykraft in a unique position to establish a space-based global service in a niche market.”

Skykraft has also partnered with Equatorial Launch Australia, a Canberra-based firm building a commercial spaceport in the Northern Territory, to get its fleet off the ground.

Mick Gentleman, member of the ACT’s legislative assembly, said the initiative supports local jobs in the growing sector “by creating a $62 million opportunity for Skykraft to develop local supply chains for the niche SmallSats market”.

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