The SpIRIT (Space Industry Responsive Intelligent Thermal) project, led by Michele Trenti, from the University of Melbourne, has been awarded a $3.95 million Australian Government grant. The funding from the International Space Investment Expand Capability Program will allow researchers to build a small satellite – SpIRIT – to be launched in space by 2022 in collaboration with multiple Australian space industry companies and with the Italian Space Agency.
SpIRIT is a very small but extremely powerful satellite designed to demonstrate key innovative technological elements in the areas of thermal management. Like a tiny robotic spaceship, SpIRIT will carry innovative X-ray sensors provided by the Italian Space Agency, sophisticated on-board computers and radios, and even a miniaturised electric propulsion engine.
The SpIRIT project involves INAF heavily, both for the realization of one of the flight payloads, an evolution of the tool developed within the HERMES-Technologic and HERMES-Scientific Pathfinder projects, and for the scientific exploitation of the data that will be produced. Indeed, SpIRIT will integrate the HERMES constellation, consisting of six nano-satellites in a low equatorial orbit, with an additional satellite placed in a different orbit (Sun-synchronous orbit, SSO). Measurements from different orbits will greatly facilitate the determination of the positions of cosmic transients, the main objective of the HERMES project.
In addition, in order to operate in SSO, the HERMES detector needs to be cooled to reduce the radiation damage. This is precisely one of the SpIRIT’s technological goals, to operate an active temperature control on a nano-satellite.
The ability to actively cool our payload opens the opportunity to use it in more hostile and harsh environments than the low equatorial orbit, such as in the inclined low orbits, in the deep space, in very high earth orbits, in cislunari orbits and orbits which intercept near-Earth asteroids. This will open new opportunities for the use of a payload for X- and gamma-rays measurements, making it exceptionally versatile.
A Memorandum of Understanding between the HERMES-SP and SpIRIT consortia will address stipulations for the use of data produced by the HERMES-TP/SP constellation and by SpIRIT.