Australia’s first mission to the International Space Station blasts off

IN THE early hours of Saturday morning a rocket blasted off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre carrying Australia’s first mission to the Internatio...

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IN THE early hours of Saturday morning a rocket blasted off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre carrying Australia’s first mission to the International Space Station.

The midnight lift-off carried experiments designed by 1000 students and is the culmination of an innovative year-long project for Aussie start-up Cuberider.

Founded by two Sydney university students, Solange Cunin and Sebastian Chaoui, Cuberider developed a program so schools could buy nanosatellites for $500 and send them into space by hitching a ride on a private rocket.

Cuberider reduces the cost of launching these small satellites, known as Cubesats, into orbit by getting a number of schools to sign up for the program, essentially providing them with a ridesharing service to space.

“The hardware costs schools $500 so it’s the cheapest satellite you could possibly get,” Cunin told on Friday, ahead of Cuberider’s first mission.

Each satellite enables the school to perform experiments in space, and can be programmed to measure data including light, temperature or even radiation.

Originally Cuberider had hoped to launch in June this year but takeoff has been delayed three times.

“The last delay was because of the SpaceX explosion,” Cunin said.

“We’re bounded by the school year so NASA moved mountains to make sure our launch happened,” she said.

The H-2B rocket that launched from Japan on Saturday morning (AEDT) carried experiments from 60 schools around Australia.

About 1000 students participated in the program, creating their own projects, learning how to code and prove their theories.

Projects include tracking temperature and light on board the space station, levels of radiation and whether the conditions would be a suitable environment for endangered species.

What really excites Cunin about the program is bringing technology and teaching together.

“It’s not just tech for the sake of tech, (students) are using it in a meaningful way that actually enriches their education,” she said.

“If your first STEM project is sending something to the International Space Station, what can’t you achieve?”

In developing the Cuberider program Cunin and Chaoui, both 23 years old, looked back at what inspired them to follow careers in engineering and science. The answer? Space.

“I think if you look through human history, we’ve always looked to the heavens for inspiration,” Cunin said.

Unlike Chaoui, who became obsessed with the space race, astronauts and the hi-tech aspect of space, Cunin said her interest grew from her down-to-earth upbringing in northern NSW.

“I grew up in a forest off-the-grid but the night sky was a big inspiration,” she said.

She got her first telescope at age eight and wanted to be an astrophysicist from age five.

Cunin and Chaoui, who put their studies on hold to launch Cuberider, met at Saber Astronautics, a research and development company building technology for space and earth-based applications. The project was developed when they realised Australia never had an experiment included on the International Space Station.

Cunin said her drive to pursue a space project came after she watched the live broadcast of a SpaceX rocket launch three years ago.

“I realised how astonishingly powerful human beings are … how much we can actually do and accomplish,” she said.

“It was like a turning point in my life being part of that and I was sitting at home in my bedroom in my jammies.”

It is this same feeling of excitement about the possibilities of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) that Cuberider aims to inspire in others.

With recent international reports showing Australian students slipping behind in these areas, Cunin believes this mission is more important than ever.

While Cunin didn’t have to be part of a space mission for it to have a profound impact on her life, she hopes the Cuberider experience will inspire the high school students taking part.

“If (watching a launch) changed my life that much, imagine what it’s going to do to them,” she said.

“These students are going to watch the rocket go up at 12.30am tonight and they’re going to own a piece of that rocket.”

While the tiny satellites will stay inside the space station for this mission, the sky’s the limit for future payloads.

“Step 1. Get to space. Then in the future the world’s our oyster right? We can do what we want. We can go where we want.”

Source: Australia’s first mission to the International Space Station blasts off