CUAVA-1 mock up in orbit

CUAVA-1 launches for deployment from International Space Station

30 August 2021
Cubesat launched on SpaceX Falcon launched from NASA Kennedy
A satellite designed and built in Sydney is helping pave the way for Australia's scientific and commercial space industry. Mission leader Professor Iver Cairns is Director of CUAVA.
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Kennedy Space Center with CUAVA-1 onboard.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Kennedy Space Center with CUAVA-1 onboard. Photo: NASA

CUAVA-1, an Australian designed and built spacecraft, has successfully launched onboard a Space-X Falcon 9 SpX-23 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It is only the ninth Australian built satellite to be sent into orbit.

A lead project of the Australian Research Council Training Centre for CubeSats, Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles and their Applications (CUAVA) based at the University of Sydney, this first mission is one of many expected to help pave the way for the development of a sustained commercial and scientific space industry in NSW and Australia. 

CUAVA-1 carries four experimental payloads intended to give scientists and research students fresh insights from near-Earth orbit during its 12-month mission.

CUAVA-1 has been sent to the International Space Station for deployment into orbit about 400 kilometres above Earth, expected later this year. 

The CUAVA-1 mission aims to:

  • Investigate Earth’s plasma environment and space weather using onboard radiation detectors;
  • Observe Earth using novel imaging technology;
  • Test equipment designed for use in a future satellite that will search for signs of life on planets around Alpha Centauri, our nearest star system;
  • Link with the international amateur radio union for education and outreach.

The CUAVA-1 mission will give students and postdoctoral researchers unique access to develop skills and experience with space-flight in readiness for employment within the Australian space industry.

The Director of CUAVA, Professor Iver Cairns from Sydney Nano and the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, said: “This mission shows that Australian universities are at the forefront of our emerging national space industry. Our CUAVA Training Centre is leading in the development of near-Earth space technology and is a critical link in training the next generation of space engineers and scientists.”

Partly funded by the NSW Government, the project is an important step in the development of Australia’s burgeoning space industry.

NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said: “CUAVA is leading the way in developing the space technology of the future and training the people that will use it.

“NSW congratulates CUAVA on the launch of its first satellite. Our state is home to almost half of Australia’s space-related businesses and generates around half of all space-related revenue nationally: there is no better place to support space technology research and development to create the jobs of the future.”

Australian Research Council CEO Professor Sue Thomas said the launch was a significant outcome from the Training Centre. 

‘We increasingly rely on access to space for vital data and services, and a skilled workforce is required to grow the sector and capitalise on global opportunities – it is exciting to see CUAVA undertaking this essential research.

“CUAVA is funded under the ARC’s Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme which fosters close partnerships between researchers and end-users to provide innovative Higher Degree by Research and postdoctoral training for industries that are vital to Australia's future.”

CUAVA-1 cubesate exploded view

CUAVA-1 mission control will be the first space-flight managed by Saber Astronautics through the new Responsive Space Operations Centre (RSOC) in Adelaide.

CEO of Saber Astronautics, Dr Jason Held, said: “Saber is delighted to fly the CUAVA-1 satellite out of the newly minted Responsive Space Operations Centre, which went live at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide last March.”

The CUAVA-1 launch is also a vital step in building international space cooperation.  The Cape Canaveral launch is being managed through the Japanese launch provider, Space BD

Cubesats are a low-cost and simple way to access near-Earth obit for scientific and commercial purposes. They are built from small boxes just 10 centimetres cubed, weighing no more than 1.3 kilograms each, and are packed-full of high-tech equipment. CUAVA-1 will include three cubes, making a box 30 centimetres long and about three kilograms in mass.

Based at the University of Sydney, CUAVA is a joint project involving the University of NSW, Macquarie University, multiple Australian commercial and government partners and the Rochester Institute of Technology in the USA. CUAVA’s government partners are the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Defence. Its commercial partners include Air@Wave Communications, ArborCarbon, HyVista and Saber Astronautics.


CUAVA is funded by the Australian Research Council.

Marcus Strom

Science Media Adviser

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