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Skykraft Launches First Air Traffic Management Satellites
Australian space-services company Skykraft has launched its first stack of air traffic management satellites, with the 300kg payload reaching low earth orbit on Jan. 4 (AEDT). Riding aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the five Skykraft Block II satellites are part of a larger constellation amounting to over 200 in the next two years.
The satellites — which weigh more than the total mass of all Australian-built space objects ever launched — are part of a three-month proof of concept operational test. The test will seek to validate Skykraft’s space-based Air Traffic Management service which it aims to commence in 2025. According to Skykraft, the global system will increase air traffic management efficiency, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and fill gaps in both surveillance and communications in remote locations.
Filling the Communication Gap
Skykraft’s Air Traffic Management (ATM) services aim to deliver seamless communication to remote locations that standard air traffic control cannot. Currently, ground-based infrastructure is limited to approximately 400km from land which makes it difficult to accurately track aircraft and ensure their safety over oceanic and remote areas.
Addressing these limitations, the Australian company’s space-based ATM utilizes ADS-B signals for independently verifying aircraft anywhere in the world, while also providing a VHF communications capability for both data and voice. Operating in Low Earth Orbit across seven orbital planes, the satellites will have a five-year life cycle, with each powered by solar arrays generating a total power output of 2.6 kW and are equipped with an S-Band antenna, UHF antennas and VHF antennas. Although relatively small in size when launched, the satellites will open up to the size of a small car when all antennas and solar panels are deployed.
In a statement, Dr. Michael Frater, CEO of Skykraft, said that air traffic controllers will be able to “talk directly with the pilot anywhere in the world,” adding that “(if) your aircraft hits turbulence, the pilot will now be able to get a clearance to change altitude much more quickly. For passengers, this means they won’t need to be seated for long periods of time, and for airlines savings on fuels savings and a reduction in the environmental impact.”
Expanding Australia’s Space Industry
With a goal of launching over 200 satellites into orbit by 2025 and a five-year replenishment cycle, Skykraft has set the ambitious target of producing 40-50 satellites per year. Assembled wholly in the Australian capital of Canberra, the satellites are manufactured from parts supplied across regional Australia, expanding Australia’s rejuvenated space industry.
In a statement, Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency, said that the launch “is another signal that Australia’s space industry is scaling, while also being a milestone in our history as the largest Australian-made payload launched into space.” Palermo further said that “this is what a future made in Australia looks like. Skykraft’s Block II Satellite represents the homegrown space technology we can offer the world and what Australian ingenuity and know-how can achieve.”
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