Tracking space junk

Algorithms normally used to track aircraft, ships and other vehicles are being used to monitor space junk and predict where it will go.

Currently the US Department of Defense tracks around 17,300 objects the size of a softball or larger, orbiting around the Earth at speeds of up to seven kilometres per second.

They can cause serious damage if they collide with something else. Last year a tiny paint fleck caused a crack in a window of the International Space Station.

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Using algorithms to predict flu outbreaks

A computer algorithm originally developed to model the West African Ebola pandemic in 2014 is being used to predict flu outbreaks in Australia months in advance, and could help in the fight against bioterrorism.

Developed by Australian Defence scientists, the tool was originally used to forecast the number of people infected with Ebola up to two months in advance.

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Drone swarms that can think for themselves

Flocking birds and schooling fish are the inspiration for creating a swarm of drones that can pilot themselves, and relay critical information to combat soldiers when other communication channels aren’t available.

Defence researchers are building the software to make this a reality, as part of the Self-organising Communications and Autonomous Delivery Service project.

While they’re currently working with octocopter drones (a drone with eight rotors), the software could also be used in self-driving buggies and underwater vehicles. Continue reading Drone swarms that can think for themselves

Seeing through bushfire smoke

Cool thinking by an Australian defence scientist while a bushfire bore down on his family home provided first responders with clearer satellite images of the blaze, and likely prevented further devastation.

Launching WorldView 3 satellite that carries a Short Wave Infra-Red sensor. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Launching WorldView 3 satellite that carries a Short Wave Infra-Red sensor. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Sampson Flat bushfires in South Australia claimed the lives of around 900 animals, destroying 27 houses along with other property in January 2015.

Chris Ekins evacuated his family, but while preparing to protect their home he heard on local ABC radio that aircraft were having difficulty seeing through the smoke.

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Reading the whispers of MH370

A communication ‘heartbeat’ has helped narrow the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The flight disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.

“Essentially we’ve had to develop, and measure the accuracy of, a way to use the extra data collected during the satellite communication,” says Dr Neil Gordon, Head of Data and Information Fusion at the Defence Science and Technology Group in Australia.

“The main communication data is a ‘heartbeat’ signal every hour, asking the aircraft ‘are you there?’ When it says ‘yes,’ a little bit of information attached to that message is captured, giving hints on the speed and direction the plane is travelling, and the distance between the satellite and the aircraft,” Neil says.

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Cool paint for Aussie warships

A new type of paint is keeping Australian warships cool and reducing their visibility.

Australian warships were painted Storm Grey, a British Navy colour suited to overcast skies of the North Atlantic rather than Australia’s tropical waters.

“The previous colour is a historical artefact, but the conditions in our waters are quite different,” says Stefan Danek from Defence Science and Technology Group.

“So in the new Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Haze Grey, we now have a colour much more suited to the Australian environment, and a paint that’s better for it too.”

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