UNSW startup to launch camera into space

HEO Robotics is teaming up with Space Machines Company to launch an on-orbit inspection camera into space.
Yolande Hutchinson | UNSW Newsroom

UNSW Sydney startup HEO Robotics' space camera is scheduled to launch onboard Optimus, the nation’s largest satellite delivery vehicle developed by Space Machines Company, early next year.

The space camera, named ‘Potoroo’, is HEO Robotics’ first fully owned space-based camera to acquire high quality imagery of valuable assets in space.

Images captured by the camera help satellite owners and operators better understand the health status of their assets and accelerate the process of resolving any issue occurring on their satellites.

HEO Robotics Founder Dr Will Crowe and Space Machines’ CEO and co-founder Rajat Kulshrestha are both UNSW alumni.

Dr Crowe said the pairing of the HEO Robotics’ camera and Optimus would allow critical data to be reported back to users within an hour, compared with the current wait that can take up to 72 hours.

The purpose of Optimus spacecraft is to ferry satellites and space hardware to different orbits and launch the satellites to their target orbits.

“This mission is a crucial step towards building our orbital camera network that advances both space situational awareness and the ability to react quickly to space debris creation events. Tens of thousands of satellites are planned for launch over the next several years, so it’s essential that Australia has its own sovereign satellite capabilities like these, to fully inform our decision makers,” Dr Crowe said.

This unique mission sees camera development, spacecraft manufacturing, launch and mission control happening using Australian technology. This mission would be a key demonstrator showcasing Australia's sovereign capability in building space transportation vehicles and space-based sensing.

HEO Robotics co-founder and Chief Technical Officer Dr Hiranya Jayakody said: “Access to space rapidly improved over the last decade due to advancements surrounding electronics and launch systems as well as the increased involvement of private space companies and research organisations. HEO Robotics and Space Machines Company are excited to use these existing opportunities to further enhance Australia's role in the democratisation of space.”

Since 2017 HEO Robotics has been incubated through the UNSW Founders Program. UNSW Director of Entrepreneurship David Burt said: “The UNSW Founders Program ensures that Australian science and technology realises its full potential. We are extremely proud of HEO Robotics’ success and will continue to support the company to grow.”

Dr Hiranya Jayakody said: “We would like to thank UNSW for its role in our company's success. UNSW's flagship entrepreneurship program, UNSW Founders, played a key role in the early days of HEO Robotics through mentorship and the founders-in-residence program allowed the company to grow sustainably.”