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Lockheed Martin and Curtin University partnership develops world-class space tracking system

A research and development partnership between Lockheed Martin Space and Curtin University has innovatively harnessed technology previously used to observe meteorite fireballs, and applied it to track satellites.

At a fraction of the cost of current technologies, the system has the potential to radically disrupt the way space objects in orbit will be tracked.

The FireOPAL project uses a range of sensors to track satellites and space debris which will ultimately provide a persistent view of objects in orbit around the Earth. It will also provide an early warning system of potential problems affecting satellites and their interaction with the thousands of pieces of space debris.

The system is an adaptation of Curtin University’s Desert Fireball Network meteorite tracking capability.  

Managing Director – Australia and New Zealand, Lockheed Martin Space, Rod Drury, said FireOPAL is an entirely Australian innovation developed by Lockheed Martin and Curtin University that is set to be expanded around the world.

“This technology enables us to track objects in space in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Mr Drury said. “We are trialing more space situational awareness sensors and new capabilities to assess what is possible and explore the advantages and challenges of combining data from different sensors.

“This partnership with Curtin University further demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s ongoing commitment to collaborating with Australian researchers and industry to identify and develop advanced technologies for the space domain,” Mr Drury said.

John Curtin Distinguished Professor Professor Phil Bland, leader of the Desert Fireball Network at Curtin University, reinforced the importance of partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin for continuing to support, improve and potentially further develop Australia’s niche space capabilities.

“FireOPAL is a great example of how blue-sky space science projects can rapidly translate into real benefits for Australian space industries and defence,” Professor Bland said. “FireOPAL has the potential to be a disruptive technology in space situational awareness. We’re looking forward to exploring that potential with Lockheed Martin.”

The joint research and development partnership between Lockheed Martin Space and Curtin University was formally announced at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in September 2017.

About Lockheed Martin Australia
Headquartered in Canberra, Lockheed Martin Australia is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation. The company employs more than 800 people in Australia working on a wide range of major programs spanning the aerospace, defence and civil sectors.

About Desert Fireballs Network (DFN)
First established in 2005 as a trial of three remote operated film cameras to observe meteors falling towards Earth’s surface, the Desert Fireballs Network (DFN) at Curtin University is now a national distributed network of 52 disruption-tolerant and fully autonomous observatories that continually monitor 3 million square km of the night sky – a third of Australian skies -  all night, every night. The DFN aims to understand the early workings of the solar system by studying meteorites, fireballs and their pre-Earth orbits. Using intelligent imaging systems, automated data reduction pipeline, real time server-side triangulation and supercomputer data management system, the DFN captures the paths of fireballs in the sky, triangulating trajectories from multiple viewpoints, linking the rock’s pre-Earth orbit to its landing site for recovery.

Together with NASA, the DFN is expanding to become a Global Fireball Observatory with 40 observatories internationally and a further 150 to be deployed in the next 12 months.

Significant efforts to engage the public internationally with this research are supported by a multi-award-winning outreach initiative “Fireballs in the Sky”.

More information about the DFN can be found at fireballsinthesky.com.au

For further information: Media Contacts: Michelle Scully, Head of Communications Australia and New Zealand, Lockheed Martin, +61 448 032 387, E: michelle.m.scully@lmco.com; April Kleer, Media Consultant (Thursdays and Fridays) Faculties of Humanities and Science & Engineering, Curtin University, +61 0466 522 314, E: april.kleer@curtin.edu.au