Enabling Australian planetary missions: technical pathway and science applications

With the inauguration of Australia’s space agency the volume around all things ‘space’ has been turned up to 11. But although agencies internationally recognise that science is a fundamental enabler in their space economies, and that missions are a key element of that, that realisation has not yet occurred in Australia. Here I will outline a program that will drive down the cost of mission development for Australian planetary scientists, build our research base, and help demonstrate the value of blue-sky research to policy makers. The innovation at the heart of this program is having a sovereign capacity in spacecraft development.

A spacecraft bus is essentially all of the primary systems of a spacecraft, minus the payload. Australia has significant capability in R&D around payloads, and science delivery from payloads as members of mission science teams. With launch costs coming down, and expanded opportunities to ride-share on missions from partner agencies overseas, the main obstacle to Australian-led missions is the spacecraft. The availability of a generic advanced planetary class bus would allow Australian researchers to define and execute their own missions, for a fraction of the current cost. Curtin is currently developing the hardware that will enable that. The in-orbit trial of our prototype will take place in early 2021. Australia has a world-class planetary science community, with broad and deep relationships with international agencies. It is our hope that this program can assist our community in helping to define Australia’s future in space. In this talk I will outline the R&D path behind the program, and mission concepts for the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars.