La Trobe know-how reaches for the stars

La Trobe University has signed a contract with Germany's Aerospace Centre to design and build a control system for new imaging technology on the International Space Station (ISS).

In what is believed to be the first ISS contract of its kind for an Australian University, the advanced new equipment will monitor natural phenomena such as bush fires, floods, ash clouds, storms, rainfall, and drought from some 400kms in outer space.
 
It will help government and emergency services in Australia and world-wide save lives and minimise damage to property and infrastructure.
 
The announcement follows Australia and Germany flagging closer innovation and industry links during Prime Minister Turnbull's recent visit to Berlin to capitalise on Australian research and Germany's expertise in commercialisation.
 
Space station compliant technology requires a high level of technological sophistication to cope with the special conditions in which it operates. It has to be low weight, deal with lack of gravity, and need no lubrication.
 
Germany's national aeronautics and space research agency (DLR*), Headquartered in Cologne, has an annual budget of about $AU2 billion and is the largest active partner of the European Space Agency.
 
Forerunner for other joint ventures
 
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Keith Nugent, said the project was an exciting step for Australia and La Trobe. 'It demonstrates the high calibre of science education and co-operative research by La Trobe University engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and naturalists,' he said.
 
Professor Nugent sees it as a forerunner for other joint ventures under discussion – both with the German space agency and Australian industry – for advanced satellites and aircraft surveillance and monitoring systems.
 
Project manager and La Trobe Research Fellow in entrepreneurship, Dr Peter Moar, said two scientists from Germany's DLR visited Australia earlier this year to discuss satellite systems, instrumentation and cutting-edge ground station technology.

Award-winning radar

'They were blown away by some of our award-winning digital radar technology for Australia's southern Tasman TIGER Radar System, which has been developed and led by the University,' he said.
 
Electronic engineer and Industry Project Coordinator, Dr Eddie Custovic, one of the lead researchers, said Germany recently developed high-resolution imaging systems capable of identifying very small fires and smoke trails from far above the Earth.
 
'With Australia's enormous land mass, technologies such as these are crucial for effective natural disaster management,' he said.

Head of Optical Sensors and Electronics at DLR in Berlin, Dr Andreas Eckhardt, said wildfires were a huge threat in many parts of the world, particularly in Australia. 

Attractive research partner

Globally wildfires also contribute up to 40% of gross carbon dioxide emissions and 38% of tropospheric ozone. Reducing wildfires just one per cent would have the same effect on emissions as removing all cars and trucks from the world for an entire year.
 
'La Trobe University,' Dr Eckhardt said, 'is an attractive partner for our research as it has vast multi-disciplinary knowledge in this field. This includes a strong engineering department, which has developed award winning instrumentation, such as the TIGER-3 Digital radar.'
 
He said this knowledge was now being applied to develop highly sensitive devices for remote sensing.
 
'There are highly active research teams at La Trobe, both at the University's city and regional campuses, who have a particularly strong understanding of the environment, biomass and the impacts of natural disasters,' he added.

Key technical details

The new technology, called the DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS), will be integrated in the International Space Station's imaging platform named MUSES (Multi-User System for Earth Sensing). This will host up to three other observation instruments capable of imaging the Earth from the visible through to the near infrared light spectrum.

Highlights of  system

    *    Compact with few optical elements
    *    Corrected telecentric lens, small in dimensions and weight, and almost aberration-free
    *    A 'grating as dispersion element' (which splits and diffracts light into beams in different directions) allows high spatial and spectral resolution of the spectrometer to a very shallow focal plane
    *    Specially designed groove profile of the 'grating' element leads to a suppression of the second order of the spectrum and minimal polarization sensitivity.  

Additional infomation

The German Aerospace Centre – Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) ­– is a world leader in space technology. It carries out a wide range of research and development projects with national and international partners and is responsible for planning and implementing the German space program on behalf of the German Federal government. With offices in Germany, the US, France, Belgium and Singapore, it has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany as well as in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.


The La Trobe University-led award-winning Tasman International Geospace Environment Radar (TIGER) is the most sophisticated digital system of its kind in the world – ten times more sensitive than any other research radar. Operated remotely from the Melbourne Campus it is used to study space weather, solar flares and other phenomena in the upper atmosphere which can impact on navigation and surveillance systems for shipping and aircraft, as well as Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Image:  DLR Blog

Media contact: Ernest Raetz, 041 226 1919

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