Adelaide satellite manufacturer Fleet Space Technologies has applied for a $5 Million federal government Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) grant, in addition to $4 million from the South Australian state government.
The funding would enable the company to mass-produce 50 nanosatellites a year and increase staff to 128 in three years.
CEO and co-founder Flavia Tata Nardini said most of the new employees will be engineers and specialist satellite assembly technicians.
“Winning this grant would mean Fleet Space and its partners can develop and manufacture the smartest parts of future satellites right here in Australia and provide an Australian service to a worldwide customer base,” she said.
“Only a handful of companies worldwide such as SpaceX and Airbus have the capacity to mass-produce satellites. We can join them, if we move quickly.”
Fleet Space plans to build a new factory for R&D and manufacturing, and has already launched four nanosatellites.
Fleet Space has delivered a $12 million R&D project since 2015 to develop advanced beam-steering antenna and to miniaturise its satellites’ communications payload.
The company has partnered with the University of Adelaide’s Institute of Photonics and Advanced Sensing, local company Redarc Electronics, Hawker Richardson in Melbourne and NSW-based Lintek to build the industrial capability to manufacture nanosatellites in Australia.
“At present, every satellite launched by an Australian company is hand-made, and many of the components come from overseas,” Nardini said.
“Our manufacturing rate is very low. Australia lacks many of the manufacturing capabilities its industry needs to build satellite payloads and the satellites themselves. And we certainly can’t produce them in volume.”
Fleet Space’s goal is to manufacture the entire payload in Australia, which includes 3D printing the advanced beam-steering antenna and designing and manufacturing increasingly complex Printed Circuit Board Assemblies (PCBAs).
As well as high-precision 3D printers, with trained operators, Fleet Space aims to design and prototype complex PCBAs up to 26 layers deep. At present, Australian firms can do up to 12 layers.
Fleet Space currently gets its complex PCBAs manufactured overseas and much of its pre-launch testing is done overseas.