Space Case

By Dan Dupont / November 14, 2012 at 3:21 PM

The United States and Australia have stepped up their space ties, the Defense Department announced today, agreeing to "advance the bi-lateral long-term international partnership on space situational awareness by placing two key U.S. space systems in Australia."

The two militaries have agreed that Australia will operate a U.S. Air Force C-band ground-based radar system in Australia. The system will provide a critical dedicated sensor for the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN), which is the principal system that the U.S. and its partners rely on to detect, track, and identify objects in space.

The U.S. and Australia have also decided to work towards the establishment of the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Australian soil. The SST is a state of the art optical telescope designed and built by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) that provides deep space surveillance.

The C-Band radar will be operated from the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station at North West Cape in Western Australia; the Australians are in the process of selecting a site for the SST. The United States and Australia will share relocation and operational costs for the systems. The C-Band radar will be delivered in 2014. Together, these complimentary platforms will provide highly accurate tracking and identification of objects in space, such as satellites and debris, in order to improve overall spaceflight safety. Data from these platforms will also improve the operational perspective for senior leaders to select and execute appropriate courses of action in response to space events and scenarios.

In addition, the U.S. and Australia are in discussions on the establishment of a Combined Communications Gateway in Western Australia. The Gateway would provide both U.S. and Australia operators access to Wideband Global Satellite communications satellites currently on orbit.

The actions taken today are the result of close collaboration from both nations on “New Frontiers” projects -- including space and cyberspace -- during the last two AUSMIN sessions. At the Melbourne AUSMIN 2010 conference, leaders signed the Space Situational Awareness Partnership. At the San Francisco AUSMIN 2011, leaders discussed the goal of placing U.S. space systems in Australia and signed a landmark agreement on cyberspace.

The U.S. National Security Space Strategy emphasizes that shared awareness of spaceflight activity must improve in order to foster global spaceflight safety and help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. Locating the C-Band radar and the SST telescope in Australia demonstrates progress towards these goals and the benefits of the re-balance towards the Asia-Pacific across domains.

Additional information on the collaboration efforts are in the full press release.