A tiny Australian satellite has performed some big experiments.

A satellite jointly developed by Defence Science and Technology (DST) and UNSW has been in orbit for more than nine months on a mission that is paving the way for a small spacecraft industry in Australia.

The Buccaneer Risk Mitigation Mission cube satellite was launched into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in November, 2017.

UNSW Canberra Space Director Professor Russell Boyce says the mission has achieved its key objectives.

“Shortly after the launch, the satellite was successfully commanded from Australian small satellite ground stations at DST and UNSW Canberra Space, which have shared daily communication with the spacecraft over the subsequent months,” Professor Boyce says.

DST mission supervisor Dr Coen van Antwerpen says the satellite has successfully deployed its three-metre, X-shaped antenna, which is a core piece of technology to be used in future Buccaneer missions.

“Now that the flight operations and experiments planned for the main part of the mission have been successfully completed, the mission is moving into an extended operations phase to obtain additional valuable information on the on-going performance of the spacecraft,” Dr van Antwerpen says.

Professor Boyce says the team has worked to test and characterise the performance of the satellite’s various sub-systems in the space environment.

“Following that, experiments have been conducted that extend the state-of-the art for small satellite space situational awareness and test key technologies in preparation for a follow-on mission, in which DST will perform calibration research for the Jindalee Over-the-Horizon Operational Radar Network,” Professor Boyce says.

“The international ground-based Falcon space surveillance telescope network… has been used to collect considerable amounts of data on Buccaneer’s attitude in Low Earth Orbit.

“This data will support UNSW Canberra Space’s research in the science of space situational awareness.

“The Buccaneer mission has been extremely successful from the perspective of a partnership to climb the space mission learning curve, as Australia accelerates its momentum in space activity exemplified by the Australian Space Agency commencing last month.”

DST Strategic Space research lead Dr Nick Stacy says small, affordable satellites like Buccaneer provide a unique opportunity to develop the Australian space industry.

“The 2016 Defence White Paper highlights space research and space systems as an important part of Australia’s Defence capability and National Security,” Dr Stacy says.