The sensor modules are a bit smaller than a floppy disk. The sensors themselves are tiny.

A CSIRO scientist with the demonstration space vehicle lined with sensor modules.

Astronomy and space technologies

For space-based and astronomical systems, CSIRO has expertise in materials, precision manufacturing, sensor technologies and specialised areas of radio communication.

  • 22 May 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011

Space engineering covers both space-based hardware and ground-based systems that support or complement spacecraft and satellites. It overlaps with systems that receive natural astronomical signals from space.

CSIRO is expert in many technologies used for space applications and astronomy.

Sensor technology

CSIRO has long experience with a range of sensor technologies. We are exploring how distributed networks of sensors can produce systems with intelligent responses, such as diagnosis, prognosis, and learning.

Such a network is being applied in the Self-organised Sentient Structures (SOSS) project, a partnership between CSIRO and NASA. We are developing and demonstrating concepts that will underpin the development of large-scale sensing and response networks to, for example creating vehicles that can monitor themselves and their environment, and learn and adapt.

Satellite technologies

CSIRO has designed a range of systems for satellite communications, both on-board and ground-based.

Examples are:

CSIRO caters to demanding and prestigious customers such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • a compact, lightweight and low-cost transponder for communications in the Ka band (20-30 GHz) - CSIRO developed this for FedSat, the first satellite built in Australia since the 1960s
  • a MultiBeam antenna for accessing up to 19 geostationary satellites simultaneously - this can replace a set of conventional antennas, each communicating with a single satellite.

Receivers for spacecraft tracking

CSIRO designs and builds world-class radio-frequency receivers. These allow a telescope or tracking station to tune into and accept certain frequencies.

Most receivers CSIRO builds are for astronomy (that is, receiving radio waves from objects such as galaxies).

But CSIRO also builds receivers for tracking spacecraft, for customers such as NASA. It did so, for instance, for:

  • NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the mid 1990s
  • the multi-country missions to Mars in 2003-04.

Precision optics

CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Precision Optics (ACPO) is a world-class facility for custom-made fabrication, coating and measurement of large and small precision optical components, assemblies and systems.

ACPO caters to demanding and prestigious customers such as:

  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • the Anglo-Australian Observatory
  • the LIGO gravity wave detector
  • The Australian National University
  • the HIDA observatory in Japan.

It also certifies reference surfaces for standards laboratories around the world.

Custom-made polymer dielectric

CSIRO is expert in custom-designing polymers for specific purposes. It has developed an innovative process for manufacturing low-loss, low-density dielectrics that may scale to low-cost mass production.

The process was used to make a spherical ‘Luneburg lens’ of a kind that might be used to receive satellite signals or natural radio signals from cosmic objects.

Handling large amounts of data

Large amounts of complex data, such as that coming from many space-related instruments, cannot be fully understood or utilised using conventional methods of analysis.

CSIRO's research into petabyte (1 000 terabytes) science is providing the foundation for scientific advances in data-driven sciences by developing new methodologies to analyse and exploit large and complex datasets.

Learn about our work in Radio Astronomy.