28 May 2024

Lost in space – communication links with Australian-built satellite unsuccessful

| Andrew McLaughlin
Start the conversation
Optimus satellite

Concept art of Optimus in orbit after its launch in early March. Image: Space Machines Company.

The operators of an Australian-built satellite launched in early March say they have failed to establish communications with it in orbit.

Named ‘’Optimus’’, the 270 kg satellite was designed as the first of a series of future Orbital Servicing Vehicles (OSV), which could provide ‘’roadside assistance’’ by repairing or refuelling satellites in orbit.

A collaborative effort with Advanced Navigation, Orbit Fab, the CSIRO and HEO, the OSV is described by the Space Machines Company as “the beginning of a new era in space sustainability”.

It was to have been the first Australian commercial satellite capable of providing existing space infrastructure and satellites with life-extension services, inspections and assistance on orbit.

Optimus was launched on 5 March on a SpaceX rocket from the US West Coast, but its operators have been unable to send or receive communication with it since.

READ ALSO Southern Launch rocket lifts off from SA’s new Koonibba Test Range spaceport

In a 22 May statement, Space Machines Company founders Rajat Kulshrestha and George Freney addressed the communications issue.

“The recent launch of our Optimus satellite marked a pivotal milestone for Australia – a giant leap into a new era of space entrepreneurship powered by Aussie grit,” they said. “The mission represented Australia’s largest locally designed and built commercial satellite to go into space.”

They said that, following the launch and successful deployment into orbit, Space Machines Company engineers were able to successfully identify Optimus in orbit.

“However, despite relentless efforts, including round-the-clock mission operations at our Adelaide operations centre and support from Australian and international partners to track the spacecraft from multiple ground stations globally, we have been unable to establish communications with Optimus,” they said.

“This setback has been heartbreaking for our team who have invested countless hours, made personal sacrifices, and shown unwavering determination.”

Space Machines Company was founded in 2018. The company has a research and development office in India and a manufacturing site in Sydney, and its head office and mission command centre is at the Lot Fourteen technology hub in Adelaide.

“Despite this adversity, we remain resolute in our ambition to make space sustainable and secure for future generations,” the company said.

“Throughout this endeavour, we have been fortunate to receive steadfast support from our Australian and international partners. They share our passion and determination to persevere.

READ ALSO Jobs and elections already affected by AI, Senate committee hears

“As SpaceX and others have demonstrated, setbacks are inevitable and necessary milestones on the path to success. What separates the explorers from bystanders is having the courage to persist, the resolve to capitalise on learnings, and the resilience to bounce back stronger from shortfalls.

“Our focus remains on the new missions on the horizon. We already have plans to build our next Optimus spacecraft and have been proud to have the support of the Australian Space Agency, as well as our many partners.

“Set to launch in 2026, our next-generation spacecraft will incorporate valuable lessons learnt from our first mission.”

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.