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UC sets its sights on space with new project

Libby Roberts

26 August 2021: Space 2.0 is rapidly migrating to cloud-based architecture, and a new collaboration between the University of Canberra and Cingulan Space will collaborate to make the move to the cloud easier and more seamless.

Faculty of Science and Technology PhD student Alexander Okon was over the moon to hear he would be working with Cingulan Space for the next three months, on a project that could one day change the way satellites are controlled.

Cingulan Space is an Australian satellite ground segment as-a-service company, which provides satellite operators with full service and support for satellite mission ground segment needs.

“The project focuses on the development of a prototype cloud-based Software Defined Radio system for the ground station control of satellites,” Mr Okon said.

“The objective is to investigate the challenges of moving from the traditional ground station – which is largely driven by hardware – to a purely software-driven platform over the cloud.”

While the project has piqued his technical interest, Mr Okon is also excited about conducting industry-focused research, in which the principles and theories he has been learning address real-life problems.

“It is my hope that this internship program will provide me with valuable industrial experience and the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research. I am also looking forward to developing relevant business analytical skills, technical and project management skills, working across multidisciplinary teams,” he said.

“I am really keen to see a successful execution of the project. The prospect of developing novel techniques and solutions that will enable the operation of ground stations to be carried out entirely via software is a source of great motivation for me.

“I am also hoping that this working relationship with Cingulan Space will extend well beyond the end of the internship program.”

Cingulan Space Co-founder and CEO Keith Rosario said they are excited to start what they hope is an ongoing relationship with UC.

“Together we hope to build a stronger space economy in the Canberra region, and provide great opportunities for local careers in the sector,” he said. “Who knows, this could even be the start of a UC space engineering program!”

“Alex’s CV read very strongly, and his career experience prior to his PhD candidature had some great alignments with Cingulan Space’s business. His enthusiasm was immediately apparent, and his approach appears to fit well with Cingulan’s work culture.

“The project will allow Cingulan Space to tap into the deep knowledge and expertise of the UC School of IT and Systems, to solve a real-world cutting-edge problem that we’ve identified.”

The relationship started through the Australian Postgraduate Research Intern (APR.Intern) program – Australia’s only national PhD internship program, which spans all sectors and disciplines. Cingulan Space reached out to the University to see if anyone would be interested in this project, and the request made its way to Associate Professor Kumudu Munasinghe, one of Mr Okon’s supervisors.

Dr Ibrahim Elgendi, Lecturer in IT and Systems, will be Mr Okon’s academic supervisor on the project.

“I thought of Alex, his PhD project and industry experience, which would work well for the project, so I sent Alex’s CV to Joe and Keith,” Professor Munasinghe said. “They said he was a perfect fit for the project, and then we had one week to get all the paperwork signed, right as the ACT was going into lockdown!”

Professor Munasinghe emphasises how important it is to bridge the gaps between research and industry for more PhD candidates, as many might not make it into academia given the lack of jobs.

“More than 50 per cent of PhD candidates go into the industry sector, but there isn’t much training for PhD students to focus on the industry training needed.

“Not only will Alex gain valuable skills, but it sets a great example for other HDR students to look into opportunities like this, and to get ready for whatever the future might hold.”

Cingulan Space has gone through the APR.Intern program before, and said it’s a great way to connect with PhD candidates and get them involved with their organisation, according to Joe Winter, Co-founder and CTO.

“APR.Intern does a terrific job of working to glue industry and Australia’s PhD cohort together. The program framework makes it straightforward to engage with the research institution, and importantly, is well-structured for the realities of the commercial world,” said Mr Winter.

Read more about Alex’s PhD research into boosting data connectivity by allowing users to transfer seamlessly among operators on UnCover.