Nation first GPS cubesat technology in orbit

By on 19 July, 2017

Australia officially has its first GPS infrastructure in space, according to the nation’s Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne.

The 4 kilogram Biarri-Point cubesat was launched as part of the QB50 constellation in April 2017 towards the International Space Station (ISS), alongside three additional Australian research cubesats.

On 18 May, Biarri-Point was deployed from the ISS into its own low-Earth orbit, carrying the Namaru GPS technology- the first fully Australian and New Zealand GPS payload for a cube-satellite. Minister Pyne said Biarri-Point is now successfully transmitting its findings back to Earth.

The Biarri project is a four nation defence-related project involving Australia, the US, the UK and Canada. The Biarri-Point miniature satellite is the first of four Biarri cubesats to be deployed in the effort to better understand cubesat formation flying and the drag and lift forces affecting signals from cubesats. This is expected to inform future applications of satellite positioning with GNSS, including for future high precision SBAS and PPP capabilities, as well have defence applications which have not been made clear.

“The Namuru GPS technology is on-orbit and is successfully functioning correctly providing significant research benefits,” said Minister Pyne.

“It is conducting a range of experiments aimed at increasing our understanding of outer atmospheric effects on small satellites and improving our situational awareness of space.”

Biarri-Point is equipped with a L1 signal GPS receiver designed to measure the precise relative position of the Cubesats in its low earth orbit. The spacecraft is also fitted with corner reflectors, thereby allowing the satellites to also be located using satellite laser ranging (SLR).

The 4kg Biarri Point satellite, the first of four cubesats of the Biarri mission.

The cubesat itself was developed by the United States, which as part of its payload has GPS technology developed by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney. UNSW has signed a contract with the Australian Government’s Defence Science and Technology (DST) to provide on-going support for the Namuru V32R3 GPS receivers.

As part of this partnership, the GPS payload was developed by the University of New South Wales in Sydney and the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, and the mission integration was organised by the Defence Science and Technology Group.

Minister Pyne claims the success of the Biarri-Point marks an important milestone for Australia’s space and defence capabilities. In June this year, Australia’s federal government has announced that AU$500 million will be put towards improving Australia’s space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for defence and commerce.

Three additional Biarri satellites, collectively known as Biarri Squad, will be launched in the later part of 2017 or in 2018.

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