While aviation, both civil and military, remains an area rich with potential for Australian manufacturers, a growing number of ambitious companies are setting their sights that little bit higher, targeting exciting opportunities in the fast-evolving space sector.

On 3 December 2019, the Australian Space Agency (ASA) signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Co-operation with defence and space giant Thales, strengthening Australia’s international space connections to create new local jobs. Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the agreement was an important step in the Federal Government’s plan to create opportunities for Australian industry and new local jobs in the burgeoning space sector.

“Engaging with big international players like Thales will allow Australian businesses, including our advanced manufacturers, to carve out a place in the international space supply chain,” said Andrews. “Space is very much an international game and for Australia to succeed we need to play to our strengths and have our businesses and researchers working co-operatively. This statement is designed to mutually identify key areas of investment as well as potential research, development and commercial opportunities.”

The agreement with Thales was the latest in a string of recent announcements by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Government as it aims to triple the size of the Australian space sector by 2030, adding $12bn to the economy each year, and creating 20,000 new jobs. The establishment in May 2018 of the ASA was followed last April by the announcement of the Morrison Government’s Australian Civil Space Strategy, a 10-year plan to guide the growth of Australia’s space sector.

“Australia has a strong and dynamic space sector, with high ambitions, great potential characterised by creativity, entrepreneurship, and a sense of discovery,” said Dr Megan Clark AC, Head of the ASA. “This Strategy provides the certainty of a long-term framework around which the sector can plan its activities towards the long-term transformation and growth of the industry.”

It’s an ambitious plan, but already there are several innovative Australian companies moving ahead towards the launchpad and getting set for take-off.

Gilmour Space Technologies – Shooting for the stars

Announced in Sydney in October, the Advance Awards celebrate the achievements of Australians living abroad, and of those who have returned home, across a range of sectors. In the Advance Manufacturing category, the award went to Adam Gilmour, CEO and co-founder of Gilmour Space Technologies. He received the award from Michael Sharpe, National Director of Industry at Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), of which Gilmour Space is a member.

Founded by Adam and his brother James Gilmour in Singapore in 2013, Gilmour Space is now headquartered in Helensvale, Queensland. It has rapidly established itself as one of Australia’s leading space companies, pioneering innovative hybrid propulsion technologies with the goal of providing lower cost access to space.

“We are designing, developing and building a launch vehicle to take small satellites into space, and we are doing this in Australia,” Adam explains. “It has always been incredibly difficult and expensive to send anything into space, but thanks to the last decade of technology advancements, satellites that used to be the size of a fridge can now be made in the size of a microwave, with perhaps the same or better capability.

According to Adam, recent rapid advances in technology have caught the industry by surprise. While many of the major aerospace companies are committed to building bigger and bigger rockets, Gilmour Space saw an opportunity to provide smaller launch vehicles to transport the new generation of smaller satellites to space.

“There is a lot of different technologies involved in building a rocket,” Ada explains. “It takes a long time to design, build, and manufacture all the components on your own, and we’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find adjunct industries that utilise similar or adaptable technologies for our rockets.

“To date, we’ve approached and partnered with several of such companies where we supply the requisite designs and they undertake parts of the manufacturing process on our behalf. These companies have decades of experience, which fast-tracks the process; they’ve all ‘seen the movie before’, so to speak.”

In addition to working with other industry players, Gilmour Space recently signed a strategic agreement with the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) to collaborate on advanced rocket technology research, testing and STEM initiatives.

“We have some exciting projects in the pipeline with USQ,” says James Gilmour, now the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Gilmour Space. “Our initial focus for this Research Partnership will be to develop space-grade composite capabilities and to explore new rocket test facilities in Queensland.”

Adam is equally excited about the new partnership: “USQ has strong capabilities in composite technology. We are using composites for the structure of our vehicle: tanks, the fuselage, and many other parts of the rocket. So, we will be working with the university throughout the design and testing phases of these components. We will also work with USQ to establish rocket engine test facilities in Toowoomba.”

Gilmour Space and USQ are no strangers to collaboration in space, having engaged with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), among others, on separate projects over the years. However, this local partnership will result in innovative space research & development (R&D) activities taking place in Queensland. Along with other national and international partners, USQ and Gilmour Space are developing STEM-related activities to encourage and train the next generation of space scientists and engineers.

“We believe it’s important to provide more pathways for bright young minds to get involved locally in the global space industry without having to leave the country,” says James. “And we want to play our part in building this future-ready industry for Queensland and Australia.”

Adam adds: “We’re developing new propulsion technology that we think will produce world-beating rocket launch vehicles, and we’re hiring aggressively—both Australian and international rocket engineers, and university graduates. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how collaborative organisations in Australia are, and how enthusiastic they are to help build our rockets.”

Titomic – Printing the world’s largest titanium rocket

Gilmour Space recently signed an agreement with Melbourne-based additive manufacturing specialists Titomic to produce high-performance rocket and aerospace components. Titomic specialises in digital manufacturing solutions for industrial-scale metal additive manufacturing (AM) using its patented Titomic Kinetic Fusion (TKF) technology.

In November Titomic unveiled the world’s largest 3D-printed titanium part, a 5.5m-long rocket at FormNext, the world’s premier AM trade show, in Frankfurt, Germany. The rocket was manufactured on the Titomic TKF 9000 system, the world’s largest and fastest metal AM system, at Titomic’s Production Bureau in Notting Hill, south-east Melbourne. The TKF 9000 has a build size of 40.5 cubic metres (9m x 3m x by 1.5m); utilising the company’s patented TKF technology, it is capable of build rates of up to 30kg per hour compared to many melt-based metal AM machines, which often print less than one kilogram per hour.

Manufactured in just 27.6 hours using the TKF9000 system, Titomic’s 5.5m-long rocket is a smaller-scale version of the Gilmour Space ERIS-S rocket, which is 27m long and which will provide customers with reliable and cost-effective access to space. Titomic has the capability to build the full-scale ERIS-S rocket in just 165 hours with the TKF process, using its economical high-performance titanium and other super-alloy powders, which can also be applied to ballistic missiles for defence applications.

Titanium is a highly desirable material in aerospace and defence industries due to superior mechanical properties such as light weight and high strength. However, availability of titanium currently remains limited, with Russia being the world’s major supplier. This, along with the difficulty of manufacturing titanium parts using traditional methods, mean the material has generally been too expensive to use. Many high-profile aerospace organisations, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are forced to use less optimal materials like stainless steel 301, a material that offers a quarter of the strength of titanium, at twice the weight.

Compared with stainless steel, titanium offers higher fatigue stength and tensile strength, with lower thermal expansion and specific heat capacity. Most importantly, titanium also holds nearly three times the thermal shock resistance in comparison to stainless steel, making it highly suitable for building rockets.

According to Titomic, titanium rockets made using TKF are half the weight of stainless-steel rockets made via traditional manufacturing processes, which allows for an increased payload mass and volume capability. This in turn opens new possibilities for more economic payload deliveries to space. TKF also allows very large seamless shapes to be produced, as advances of AM surpass traditional manufacturing methods in terms of productivity and affordability.

“Previously, titanium was more than twice the price of stainless steel,” says Jeff Lang, Managing Director of Titomic. “But now with our development of new titanium powder supply chains and Australia’s significant mineral sand resources of approximately 280m tons of titanium, Titomic is at the forefront of advancing technology to ensure the future sustainability of the Earth’s resources whilst reducing carbon emissions for global manufacturing.’’

Myriota and Motherson – Partnership boosts SA space industry

Based in Adelaide, Myriota is a global leader in nanosatellite Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. In October it entered into a partnership deal with global manufacturer Motherson to produce its Myriota Module – a cutting edge, low-powered device that securely transfers data to the Myriota Network of satellites from anywhere on the planet.

Production is well underway, with Motherson already manufacturing tens of thousands of Myriota Modules at its South Australian design and manufacturing facility, for delivery across the globe. Myriota’s growing list of partners and customers include Optus, Amazon’s AWS and Boeing. It is the first partnership that Motherson has entered into with a space or IoT business within Australia, enabling Motherson to expand its business into these industries.

Dr David Haley, Myriota’s co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, believes the collaboration shows that it’s possible to keep design and manufacturing within South Australia.

“Myriota and Motherson are examples of two South Australian businesses excelling in their respective industries,” says Dr Haley . “Our partnership demonstrates that manufacturing capabilities in South Australia – which once primarily served the automotive industry – have diversified into new sectors, including Australia’s growing space sector.”

Sam Vial, Motherson’s Business Development Director for Asia Pacific, says the partnership is an important step in diversifying its business: “We’re thrilled to become Myriota’s manufacturing partner and expand our operations to include the space and IoT sectors. This partnership will help to sustain jobs in our South Australian facility, with products being both designed and manufactured locally.”

Motherson will be manufacturing millions of units of the Myriota Module in South Australia over the next five years. Built on an edge computing platform, the Myriota Module allows for third-party integration with a huge range of sensors and devices. These devices communicate directly with Myriota’s nanosatellites to provide sensor data updates on valuable resources to a wide range of businesses.

One of the first customers to benefit from the partnership is Zepiro. The Australian business recently purchased its first order of Myriota Modules for use by clients in the mining sector, and Zepiro’s COO Damien Cox, says that they’re very excited about the potential.

“The Myriota Module provides a great market opportunity for our business in industries like mining and agriculture where long-endurance remote resource monitoring is vital,” says Cox . “The low cost and robust nature of this technology allows us to economically retrieve critical telemetry from difficult to access locations.”

Steven Marshall , Premier of South Australia, was excited to see South Australian manufacturing being leveraged to grow the state’s space industry.

“This is yet another example of two companies collaborating across this exciting, high-growth industry in our state, creating the jobs of the future,” said Marshall. “Myriota is a proud South Australian company now making an impact on an international scale. Partnerships like this bolster South Australia’s reputation as a global leader across the space sector, attracting even more national and international companies to invest in our state.”

Black Sky Aerospace – Cleared for launch

The Northern Territory is also claiming a slice of the international space industry, with Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) developing a commercial spaceport near Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land. The Arnhem Space Centre will include multiple launch sites with various launch vehicles providing sub-orbital and orbital access for commercial, research and government organisations.

ELA recently signed an agreement with NASA for it to launch its sounding (research ) rocket program from the Arnhem Space Centre in 2020. The site will host a world first: NASA’s first-ever launch from a non-government-owned site. Meanwhile, Black Sky Aerospace (BSA) will become the first Australian rocket manufacturer to gain priority access to the space centre.

“Increasing access to local vehicle manufacturers is an exciting option for the site,” said Carley Scott, CEO of ELA. “We are pleased to provide a launch platform that, we hope, will significantly enhance the growth of opportunities for BSA as a vehicle of choice here and abroad into the future.”

Blake Nikolic, CEO of BSA, added: “Launching from the ELA site in the near term will provide our customers with the benefits of being close to the equator. In the longer term, it allows us to continue developing nation-leading rocket technologies that can carry payloads to orbit and beyond using local expertise and our proven ability to create reliable vehicles.”

Based in Logan, Queensland, BSA specialises in supplying responsive access to space. The company has a range of sounding rockets capable of flights up to 300km, and designs and manufactures a range of propulsion systems for use in rockets and sub-orbital launch vehicle applications. BSA successfully launched Australia’s first commercial payloads in 2018.

The company was recently given the green light by regulators to begin the process towards the manufacture of solid rocket motors (SRMs) in Logan. SRMs are the preferred means of propulsion for many space launch companies due to their simplicity and cost-effectiveness. They are particularly useful because SRMs have a long shelf life and can be stockpiled with little upkeep, yet still be ready to use many months or years later. BSA will be the first manufacturer of its kind in Australia and will be able to provide access to solid fuels for orbital and sub-orbital launch vehicles.

“Our propulsion arm is integral to the bigger picture for us,” says Nikolic. “Without fuel, the industry stalls. Our SRM manufacturing provides industry with accessible rocket boosters, made right here in Queensland. This also allows us to continue with our testing and launch capabilities that we carry out at our facility in Goondiwindi.”