Australian space start-up partners with UTS to accelerate the development of its in-space transportation vehicle. 

Australia is undergoing a renaissance in space driven largely by a supportive government eager to help make the sector self-sustaining.

Backed by initiatives such as the Federal Government’s The Australian Space Agency (ASA), the Modern Manufacturing Initiative – Manufacturing Integration Stream grant and NASA’s Moon2Mars program, the Australian space industry is attracting global attention for everything from earth observation and communications capabilities to space domain awareness.

The ASA aims to grow the value of the Australian space to A$12 billion per annum by 2030 – supporting another 20,000 space industry jobs. However, for the national space industry to continue growing, there are a number of high-tech start-ups and SMEs dependent on gaining access to clean rooms and other testing facilities to deliver technologies in space.

High-tech start-up Space Machines Company (SMC) is leading the charge to deliver a 65sqm ISO 8 Clean room at its HQ based in UTS Tech Lab, Sydney. The clean room will enable SMC to assemble and test its unique in-space transportation solution to be launched as part of one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rideshare missions in 2023.

SMC lead systems engineer Clyde Webster says dust and other contaminants can impair the operation of both mechanical and optical systems so the clean room is a critical facility to build functioning components, which meet NASA standards.

Webster says building the 270-kilogram SMC Optimus Orbital Transfer Vehicle in a clean room facility will help ensure that all parts of the vehicle will exceed cleanliness requirements and significantly increase the chance of a successful mission.

Roger Kermode, Faculty Director, Business Development at UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT, says as well as being of use to a number of different industries including medical tech, pharmaceuticals and computer chip manufacturing, having ready access to clean rooms is essential for all companies looking to create space-rated hardware.

These facilities require considerable capital to install but also an ongoing commitment to run which is a challenge for most start-ups and SMEs in Australia. The investment in additional clean rooms, a shake table, a tribology station and a number of dedicated labs will create a nexus where space and defence companies can co-locate at Tech Lab and advance their technologies.
Roger Kermode, Faculty Director, Business Development, UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT

Helene Baron, Strategic Business Development at SMC, says the advantages of working alongside UTS Tech Lab were numerous and included economy of scale, resourcing and speed to market.

We need heavier investment and access to larger facilities than if we were manufacturing software, as opposed to assembling, testing and integrating an entire spacecraft. As a start-up the cost of investment to get such facilities is huge, especially in the space manufacturing sector. We can also access expertise and work with UTS students from various engineering domains, which contributes to the development of our team and mission.
Helene Baron, Strategic Business Development,SMC

The development of the project is part of a broader focus for UTS Tech Lab to enhance the space ecosystem for start-ups, SMEs and large national or international organisations.

The UTS Tech Lab is currently in the process of adding nearly 5,500sqm of additional office and warehouse that will enable multi-company projects to be undertaken in close proximity to one another and also with external partners.