The Australian Space Agency (ASA) has launched a public consultation a command and control centre that can help test and operate artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic systems designed for use in orbit.
The Robotics, Automation and AI Command and Control Centre is one of seven projects to benefit from the government’s $19.5 million Space Infrastructure Fund (SIF), announced as part of the 2019-20 budget.
The facility will be based in Western Australia. In July, the federal science minister, Karen Andrews, and WA science minister, Dave Kelly, revealed details of a $6 million memorandum of understanding, which will see $4.5 million in Commonwealth funds go towards funding the control centre as well as $1.5 million to support space data analysis facilities in the state.
As part of the MoU, WA has allocated an initial $2 million in funding to supporting its partnership with the ASA.
The command and control centre will be the subject of an open grant process, with a successful applicant to take charge of building and operating it. The government has indicated it expects the successful applicant to contribute additional financial and other resources to the project.
The new facility is expected to “support the development and operation of robotic and remote asset management activities in space,” states an ASA discussion paper.
“This includes robotic operation of on-orbit space assets and automated command, control and management of robotic activities on the Moon or Mars. It also includes in-orbit servicing of satellites as well as assisting in the delivery of technology necessary for object handling, manipulation and assembly of satellite parts and also gateways or off-earth base construction equipment.”
The ASA expects the facility to offer four key capabilities: Reliable and robust communications between “Earth, gateways, space stations, other spacecraft or celestial bodies”, managing communications delays for equipment based in space or on Earth, support for testing remote robotic operations in extreme environments, and able to integrate with the South Australian based Mission Control Centre.
The facility is expected to be primarily used by startups, small and medium enterprises, and researchers and educational institutions, although enterprises and government agencies will not be excluded.
The ASA anticipates the grant process for the project to kick off in November or December of this year, with the successful applicant (or applicants) announced in March-April 2020.
The ASA has also begun a consultation on the SA Mission Control Centre, which is also an SIF project.
Other SIF projects include the WA-based space analytics facilities, also foreshadowed by the recent MoU, an upgrade to Tasmanian tracking facilities, space manufacturing facilities in NSW, and national pathway to launch and space payload qualification projects.
The two discussion papers for the WA robotics and SA mission control projects are available from the ASA website.
In a speech earlier this year, ASA head Dr Megan Clark said that the momentum in Australia’s space sector was “palpable in every state and territory.”