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Canberra scientists leading Australia's push to enter the space race

Canberra scientists are taking the lead in Australia's push to join the space race. 

Last week Canberra's UNSW launched a satellite it developed with defence scientists into space.

And today Australia's first national space mission design facility will open at the university.

The Australian National Concurrent Design Facility (ANCDF) means Canberra now has the capability to develop space missions from start to finish.

It means Australia has a facility that will allow spacecraft design engineers and scientists to rapidly design and determine the technical and economic viability of proposed space missions from start to finish, helping to build the Australian space economy.

UNSW Canberra Space director Professor Russell Boyce said space was an emerging industry which presented huge opportunities for Australia.​

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He said the design facility would promote the attractiveness of Canberra to the industry. 

"Organisations like NASA, euro space agencies, they all have these concurrent design facilities and this will be one for Australia, it is being established as a national asset," he said.

It comes after the university last week launched a miniature "cube" satellite it built, the Buccaneer, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The satellite is part of a program to better understand the JORN radar system, which is used to conduct air and maritime surveillance in Australia. 

Professor Boyce said the scientists were nervously watching the rocket launch in the early hours of the evening.

"By then it was the third attempt by the Americans to launch that rocket," Professor Boyce said.

"Everyone was exhausted by then but there was lots of excitement and also a lot of caution because we know things can go wrong with rocket launches.

"In this case as far as we understand it was quite perfect and the satellite ended up in the right orbit."

Buccaneer, jointly owned with Defence Science Technology Group and about the size of a shoe box, is part of a project to calibrate the JORN radar system.

It will also provide crucial data on predicting orbits of space objects including space "junk".

Buccaneer is one of five funded spacecraft and a further three in early development at UNSW Canberra Space, a flagship program established with a $10m internal investment. 

Over the next few weeks and months the spacecraft will undergo operations to check and commission its systems before undertaking its risk mitigation activities and experiments in early 2018.

"Being able to avoid collisions in space is essential if we are to safeguard the space-based technologies upon which society depends. Our cubesats will play an important role in gathering data for this research, among other outcomes such as demonstrating space-based capability ranging from remote sensing to ultra-secure quantum communications," Professor Boyce said. 

"With a team of over 40 space engineers, scientists and PhD students, we have the in-house ability and capacity to conceive, develop and fly innovative space missions with our own hands, supported by world class space research, rather than relying on others.

"It's about building a sustainable domestic space capability with affordable methods of delivery."