Recent high-profile space missions mean there’s never been more interest in aerospace technology and it’s an ideal opportunity to get more young people involved, says Greek Australian honours student Andreas Antoniades.
But the drawing power of spectacles like the Pluto fly-by and the Rosetta comet landing are just half of the equation. Antoniades believes the prohibitive cost of space technology is restricting the nation’s ability to educate and inspire its youth to pursue careers in the field.
In his final year of a combined Bachelor of Engineering and Business degree at the University of Newcastle, his start-up, Obelisk Systems, is developing new ProtoSAT technology that aims to remove this educational barrier to entry.
“The Pluto and Rosetta missions have reinvigorated interest in space-related research and the importance of space technology,” Andreas told Neos Kosmos.
“Both the market and the public are more receptive to the importance of space technology in our lives and I’m hoping to ride this wave of awareness and play my part in attracting more young people into this field.”
ProtoSAT conforms to the international CubeSat standard (specifications for a miniaturised satellite for space research developed for low earth orbit) using the best-available components while remaining affordable – and allows students, mainly in universities – to familiarise themselves with fully-functional equipment.
“The extremely expensive hardware meant that students had nothing of this sort to work with, unless they had about $100,000 to spend.”
Andreas is pursuing several avenues to raise capital for the project and plans to have prototypes by mid-next year, demonstration units by late 2016 and to offer the ProtoSAT platform to the educational sector for less than $1,000.
ProtoSAT can be powered by its own solar panels, but the benefits of the CubeSat standard are also environmentally sound.
“These are so cheap you can build them, launch them, have them do the science at a low orbit, and then have them burn up in the atmosphere so they aren’t a space debris threat,” says the enthusiastic inventor.
“Space is cool. It’s the best thing ever. There’s something wild about knowing there are man-made things whizzing up above us but potentially around other planets as well.
“I wanted to study science, but I didn’t expect to be doing this. It didn’t take me long to realise that by combining these degrees I could look forward to more than just a job.”
He says that his parents are “pretty switched on” and pick up what he’s doing fairly quickly, but he is conscious of the need to keep jargon to a minimum and speak to them in plain English about what he’s doing.
His father, Newcastle’s honorary Greek Consul, Zissis Antoniades, says the strategy has worked well because he understands most of the good work and achievements of his son.
“Sometimes Andreas will come in and tell us something and my wife will look at me and whisper ‘did you understand?’ and I tell her ‘just nod and say it’s fantastic, because I didn’t understand either’.
“But I know he’s doing what no one else in Australia has done and I’m a very proud dad.”