A high resolution camera which was partly developed in Melbourne and fired into space on Friday will be used to fight bushfires and monitor the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
The earth sensing imaging spectromoter, built at La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus in Melbourne, was launched at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Friday night, Melbourne time, onboard Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
It will take three days to reach the International Space Station 400 kilometres above earth, where the device, which was developed and constructed by the German Aerospace Centre in partnership with La Trobe, will be installed.
“There will be about a three-month commissioning phase to make sure it’s all working properly to specifications so ideally all things going well maybe around October, November we’ll have the first images that can also be used for commercial purposes,” La Trobe University senior lecturer Peter Moar said.
The camera will transmit data to the La Trobe’s School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and to ESS Weathertech, a Melbourne-based company which has built a ground station to receive the imagery.
The camera will be installed on the International Space Station and will transmit data to La Trobe University in Melbourne. (Supplied: German Aerospace Centre)
Dr Moar said the camera would orbit the earth, taking sequences of high resolution images of the earth’s surface which had many potential uses, including helping emergency services to target their efforts to fight bushfires.
He said farmers could use the images to analyse crops and optimise their use of fertilisers, and governments and researchers could use the images to monitor the health of the Great Barrier Reef, including to monitor water quality, measure runoff of pollutants from land, and detect the illegal dumping of chemicals.
“This is a ground-breaking achievement for engineering in Australia and will help governments and emergency services world-wide,” Dr Moar said.
The rocket will take about three days to reach the International Space Station. (Flickr: spacex)
Dr Moar said the camera, which was three years in the making, had been built to withstand the extremes of space, including temperatures almost as low as zero kelvin (-273 degrees Celsius) and as high as a few hundred degrees.
It will remain on the International Space Station for four years, when it will be brought down and examined to understand the effects of space conditions on the instrument.
Victorian Industry Minister Ben Carroll said the launch of the camera cemented Victoria’s position as a “world leader in space technology”.
“As a La Trobe University alumni, to watch the launch last night, it gave me goosebumps to think that the super sharp image on that rocket was developed by students and academics right here at La Trobe University, Bundoora,” he said.
The Andrews Government is lobbying the Turnbull Government for Victoria to play host to the new Australian Space Agency.
“This is a very clear example of why the Australian Space Agency should be located in Victoria,” Mr Carroll said.
“In Victoria, we’re not only talking space, we’re doing it.”
The Andrews Government said one-in-five Australian space-related science and technology companies were based in Victoria, and many of the world’s top aerospace companies — including Lockheed Martin, Thales, Boeing and BAE Systems — carried out research, development and manufacturing in the state.
The global space industry is forecast to be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040.