Stars align for Defence scientist

1 January 2024

When a young Franke Agenbag searched for constellations in the night sky, she could never have imagined she would grow up to send capability into space.

“I grew up in South Africa, and my grandparents’ farm had the best view of the stars,” Ms Agenbag said.

During her childhood, Ms Agenbag said she spent a lot of time pulling toys and electronics apart with her father and learning how to put them back together – which sparked her interest and passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school.

While in her third year studying a Bachelor of Electrical and Mechatronic Engineering at the University of South Australia, Ms Agenbag interned with Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG).

She worked alongside the space operations group and was introduced to the Buccaneer CubeSat program, where she had hands-on experience in designing a satellite.

Now a space systems engineer at DSTG, Ms Agenbag has designed a first-of-its-kind imaging system for the Buccaneer Main Mission project.

“Our objective is to make a system that can self-observe – that is to capture images of the satellite itself and its immediate surroundings,” she said.

The system incorporates a liquid lens, a mechanical arm and a dual-surfaced mirror, which can be manually controlled to capture an array of perspectives of the satellite and its surroundings.

The mechanical arm is also retractable, meaning the system can be stowed safely during launch and while the satellite is in orbit.

“It’s also the first known example of liquid-lens imaging being prepared for launch on a satellite,” Ms Agenbag said.

“Liquid lenses were not specifically designed for space, but they have considerable potential.”

Since joining DSTG, Ms Agenbag said she loved being surrounded by a huge variety of niche fields and experts who are always willing to lend a hand.

“Since entering the professional world, I’ve realised not many people actually love their job. I feel very lucky to be going to a job I love every day,” she said.

Ms Agenbag recently won the ‘Innovation and Intrapreneurship in Government: Women in Innovation’ award for her work on the imaging system.

“I definitely did not expect to take home the award. I am very proud that something I’m so passionate about is good enough to receive recognition,” she said.



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