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.
- The C-Band mechanical tracking ground-based radar is a very capable asset for space surveillance and space object identification capabilities for objects in low-earth orbit.
- The C-Band radar can accurately track up to approximately 200 objects/day and provide significant orbit and characterization information to help identify satellites, their orbits and potential anomalies.
- When relocated, this C-band radar will be the first low-earth orbit space surveillance network sensor in the southern Hemisphere. The new location provides needed southern and eastern hemisphere coverage that will lead to improved positional accuracies and predictions.
- C-Band radar can also significantly contribute to tracking high-interest space launches from Asia.
Space Surveillance Telescope:
- The SST provides an order of magnitude improvement in search rate and sensitivity (ability to detect and track satellites) from the existing U.S. system known as the Ground Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) telescopes.
- Deep space search telescopes, like GEODSS, are unable to provide a full picture of objects like microsatellites and space debris that threaten satellites. The SST provides an improved (wider) field of view and can better detect track small objects at the deep space altitudes associated with geosynchronous orbits (roughly 22,000 miles high).
- The SST telescope was integrated in the fall of 2010 and achieved first light in February 2011. Following this important program achievement, the system underwent an extensive check-out period and fine alignment phase that readied the system for a demonstration starting in October 2011. SST completed its DARPA test and evaluation period in August 2012.
- Basing the SST in Australia will provide coverage of a more densely populated region of the geostationary belt than its previous location in New Mexico.