A CubeSat is a standard shaped satellite, small enough to be developed by universities, but large enough to potentially produce some truly ground-breaking scientific discoveries. To make launch and deployment easier, CubeSats are designed in standard box shapes. A “1U” CubeSat is a cube approximately 10cm on a side, and larger CubeSats are measured by the number of 1U blocks it would take to fill the same volume (so, a 2U CubeSat would be approximately 10cm x 10cm x 20cm). CubeSats were first proposed by professors at California Polytechnic and Stanford in 1999, and since then over 600 CubeSats have been launched into low earth orbit. See http://www.CubeSat.org/about/ and http://www.nanosats.eu for more details and a launch database.
Why is it called SkyHopper?
Target of opportunity observations for SkyHopper are spread all around the sky, and we don’t know when they will occur. So the spacecraft will need to rapidly Hop around the Sky to see them all, just like our logo, the Australian Native, Spinifex Hopping Mouse, Notomys alexis.
SkyHopper will be one of the largest CubeSats ever launched — it will be a 12U CubeSat weighing in at 24 kilograms. During the launch phase, Skyhopper will measure 240mm x 220mm x 360mm, but once it reaches orbit and extends its solar arrays, it will have a wingspan of over 1.5 meter.
What are the advantages of astronomical observations from space?
Observing from space offers a number of unique benefits over ground based telescopes. Earth’s atmosphere contains water molecules and other compounds which can absorb the infrared light coming from space. These molecules also emit their own light at similar wavelengths, which varies with time. This time-variable background limits the ability of telescopes to measure the luminosity of astronomical objects to a high precision from the ground. By going to space, SkyHopper will bypass these limitations, and its 20cm mirror will be more efficient than a 2 meter diameter telescope on the ground. Furthermmore, being in a fixed location on the Earth limits the amount of the sky a telescope can see. From its low-Earth orbit, SkyHopper will be able to promptly access a much larger fraction of the sky compared to any single telescope on the ground.
When will SkyHopper be launched?
SkyHopper is expected to be launched around 2024.
How much will SkyHopper cost?
The cost of innovative space missions is challenging to estimate, and will depend on final hardware design choices and availability of launch opportunities. At this stage, our current best estimate for the total mission cost, including two years of operations, is in the order of 10,000,000 AUD.
Who is funding SkyHopper?
We are grateful for support from the University of Melbourne (William Spencer Trust and the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research) and the Laby Family Foundation, which has made it possible for us to complete the Phase A concept design and start the Phase B preliminary design. We have proposals currently under review at national and international funding bodies for final design, fabrication, integration, and testing. If you would like to get in touch with us about becoming a supporter of the project, please see our Get Involved page or reach us by e-mail at email@example.com.
What will SkyHopper discover?
SkyHopper will spend most of its time searching for Earth-sized planets in the “habitable zone” of red dwarf stars that are cooler and smaller than our Sun. Over the lifetime of the mission we expect to find a handful of these potentially-habitable Earth-sized planets, plus tens of other planets (more massive and/or closer to their host star). The scheduled exoplanet survey observations will be interrupted to catch the fading afterglows of the most powerful explosions in the universe, Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs). A GRB is the last gasp of a collapsing rotating star on its way to forming a black hole. For a short time after the burst, a GRB can outshine its galaxy by thousands to millions of times. While other observatories can study GRBs, SkyHopper will be specialized to study the most distant GRBs in the universe — explosions whose light has been traveling across the cosmos for billions of years. By looking at the light from these explosions, we can learn about the earliest episodes of star formation in the Universe.
I haven't heard of any Australian satellites before. How many are there?
While there aren’t many Australian satellites, the national space capability is developing, especially in the CubeSat category. The growth in the Australian space industry has led to a number of Australian CubeSats launching over the last 5 years. These include:
Three CubeSats launched to the International Space Station and deployed into low Earth orbit as part of the international QB50 program (May 2017)