Thursday, 06 December 2018 00:39

Curtin Uni researchers take part in space missions as new space centre launches

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Curtin Uni researchers take part in space missions as new space centre launches Image courtesy of Somchai Som at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Researchers at Western Australia’s Curtin University are on science teams for three major current space missions, which coincide with the launch of the university’s new Space Science and Technology Centre, claimed as the largest planetary research group in the Southern Hemisphere.

The missions include the European Space Agency’s (ESA) BepiColumbo voyage to circle and study Mercury launched in October, NASA’s InSight mission landed on Mars last week, and the OSIRIS-REx probe just arrived at asteroid Bennu, with the goal of returning a sample to Earth.  

Curtin University says its involvement in all three current missions reflects its world-class research in the field.

SSTC director and John Curtin Distinguished Professor Phil Bland, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the formal launch of the research centre was special because it combines bluesky science with engineering and industry engagement on a global scale.

“In the last month alone, our centre’s researchers have been busy delivering the science behind missions that involve the launch of two spacecraft that will perform an orbital dance around Mercury, the landing of a robot on Mars and the manoeuvring of a spacecraft close enough to a moving asteroid in order to collect vital information,” Professor Bland said.

“Our group represents the largest planetary research endeavour of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, to help unlock many more of the Solar System’s greatest mysteries by driving scientific, technological and commercial innovation, and hopefully inspiring the next generation of space and planetary scientists, and engineers.”

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft tasked with recovering samples from the asteroid arrived at Bennu this week, where it will remain until 2021 to collect up to 2kg of samples before returning to Earth and landing in the US in 2023.

The mission, which launched in 2016, aims to return samples of the asteroid that will provide invaluable insights into the early formation of the Solar System.

Professor Bland is a member of the science team that will be studying the asteroid, and will be involved the analysis of the returned samples.

The Mars InSight mission recently achieved a major milestone when it successfully landed on the Red Planet on 26 November with the aim of investigating the Mars quakes created by meteor impacts.

Curtin University planetary scientist Dr Katarina Miljkovic is the only Australian researcher involved in the mission and will analyse data collected by the robotic lander in order to study the crust and interior of Mars, including detecting seismic activity or ‘marsquakes’.

Within SSTC, Dr Miljkovic is part of the NASA SEIS science team, where she will model and study the interaction of meteor impacts with the Martian surface, through the tremors they produce.

The BepiColombo mission, which is a joint effort between the ESA and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, launched in late October and is expected to arrive at Mercury in 2025.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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