More moolah for Moon to Mars projects

Brandon How

Grants worth $1.2 million have been shared among three Australian space companies under round four of the Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability Improvement program.

The $150 million program started funding local space projects in March last year to enable participation in the US-led public-private Moon to Mars exploration program, of which $6.2 million has been awarded thus far. This includes NASA’s Artemis program, a bid to send missions to the moon by 2024.

Among the recipients is the Industrial Sciences Group, whose space missions toolkit will be used by contractors undertaking NASA lunar missions in the near future. The toolkit can help reduce flight costs by reducing uncertainties in a spacecraft’s movement. The group’s grant was worth $440,000.

Vehicle testing in the CSIRO moon dust chamber

UNSW Canberra Space spin-off Infinity Avionics received $460,000 for the development of a Modular Imaging Unit, which provide plug and play imaging sensors for Earth observation, space surveillance, lander and rover missions.

According to their website, UNSW Canberra Space is the country’s largest space mission, research, and education team.

The third recipient is robotics manufacturer Blueprint Lab whose nearly $320,000 grant will be put towards transferring their existing robotic manipulator technology to space. After starting out as a subsea robotics company in 2016, they have since adapted their technology for use in the mining, nuclear, and defence industries, among others.

Firms are able to apply for a grant between $250,000 and $1 million under this program at any time until May 1 next year.

Science and Technology Minister Melissa Price said the most recent grants showed the ongoing support for small and medium businesses as a part of the government’s wider plan to drive the space sector’s value to $12 billion by 2030.

“This is another example of the incredible space capability that exists in Australia,” Minister Price said.

“We’re supporting the Australian space industry to grow its capacity to compete in a global market and become part of future missions, including NASA’s endeavours to return to the Moon and go on to Mars.”

The minister’s office says the Moon to Mars initiative is a part of $800 million that is being invested by the federal government in line with the Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028.

The space sector is one of the government’s six National Manufacturing Priorities and received an injection of $14 million last July under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.

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