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American Forces Press Service

U.S. to Locate Key Space Systems in Australia

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

PERTH, Australia, Nov. 14, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith have agreed to place two key space systems in Australia.

One system, an Air Force C-band space-surveillance radar, will move from Antigua in the West Indies to Western Australia in 2014. It will track space assets and debris, increase the security of space-based systems and increase coverage of space objects in the Southern Hemisphere.

The other system is an advanced U.S. space surveillance telescope designed and built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In Australia, the system will help to leverage space surveillance capabilities for both nations, officials said.

The United States and Australia also are discussing establishing a combined communications gateway in Western Australia. The system would give operators in both nations access to wideband global satellite communications satellites.

“All of that represents a major leap forward in bilateral space cooperation and an important new frontier in the United States’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region,” Panetta said during a news conference after a series of meetings here today during the 2012 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.

The C-Band mechanical tracking ground-based radar is useful in space surveillance and can identify space objects in low Earth orbit. It can accurately track up to 200 objects a day and can help to identify satellites, their orbits and potential anomalies, according to a fact sheet about the system.

When the radar is relocated to Australia, it will be the first low-Earth-orbit space surveillance network sensor in the Southern Hemisphere. The new location will give needed southern and eastern hemispheric coverage that will lead to better positional accuracies and predictions, the fact sheet states.

The system will provide a critical dedicated sensor for the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, the main system that the United States and its partners rely on to detect, track and identify objects in space.

C-band radar also can help in tracking high-interest space launches from Asia.

A senior U.S. defense official said the United States will get the system up and running once it is in Australia, then will train Australians to operate the system.

Relocating and getting the system running will cost about $30 million, and after that will cost $8 million to $10 million a year to operate.

The second system, the DARPA space surveillance optical telescope, will offer an order-of-magnitude improvement over ground-based electro-optical deep space surveillance, or GEODSS, telescopes in search rate and the ability to detect and track satellites, officials said.

Existing telescopes can’t provide a full picture of objects such as microsatellites and space debris. The SST gives a wider field of view and can better detect and track small objects at deep-space altitudes -- about 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface -- associated with geosynchronous orbits.

A geosynchronous orbit is an orbit around Earth that’s about 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds around, matching the planet’s rotation period. For an observer on the ground, an object in geosynchronous orbit returns daily to the same position in the sky.

The SST telescope achieved first light in February 2011 and then went through an extensive checkout period and fine-alignment phase that readied the system for a demonstration beginning in October 2011. The DARPA test and evaluation period was completed in August.

The telescope is now based in New Mexico, but moving it to Australia will allow it to cover a more densely populated region of the geostationary satellite belt, according to a fact sheet.

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