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Force’s bold launch into space projects

By Malcolm Davis

When it came to space, Australia once had the luxury of simply providing a suitable piece of real estate for a ground segment, while the US or other nations, as well as commercial operators, provided the space segment that included the satellites, and space launch capability.

Now Australia is starting to take a more sophisticated approach to developing space policy and capability, and it has a flourishing space industry.

The growth of a local space industry and the falling cost of accessing space means there is no longer any reason why a future Australian space segment should not emerge that includes sovereign space launch and satellite manufacture.

Two defence space projects — Def-799 Phase 2 and JP-9102B — are under way. It is these two projects that will be the foundation for ADF space support.

Def-799 comprises two phases, and a total funding of $500m. Phase 1 is designed to provide Australia with direct and more timely access to commercial imaging satellites.

Phase 2 will seek the acquisition of new space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability, preceded by a two-year study and with an aim to ensure industry involvement. Initial operating capability (IOC) would likely be from the middle of the next decade.

JP-9102B seeks to develop the next-generation Australian defence satcom system (Australian Defence Satellite Communications System) to enable the joint command and control of deployed joint task forces through providing resilient and responsive communications via a dedicated space segment.

The satellites would be deployed in both geostationary and other orbital locations, with IOC as early as 2026.

It seems likely a high-low mix of space systems could emerge. For ISR, we’d want to acquire sophisticated multispectral imaging and surveillance capability which could be provided by an ally.

However, the lower cost and growing potential of small satellites and the use of networked ‘‘fractionated constellations’’ of CubeSat small systems means that the low-end elements of both Def-799 Phase 2 and JP-9102B could be developed locally.

The idea of sovereign satellite capabilities isn’t pie in the sky. The RAAF is already flying some CubeSat-based systems for experimentation with ISR capability, starting with the Buccaneer CubeSat in November 2017 to enhance the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar Network (JORN).

Beyond satellite development is sovereign space launch capability. Australian companies are developing low-cost space launch capabilities designed to place small satellites weighing a few hundred kilograms into low-earth orbit, and which could be launched from Australian launch sites. Australia would have a full end-to-end sovereign space capability.

It would add an entirely new type of national capability with direct application to defence and national security and allows the ADF to embrace new types of roles and missions in support of allies.

The Defence Department should be seeing the space domain, and Australia’s role in it, as a new operational area for the ADF to expand into by building a growing national space capability. Australia should seek to become a space power in the next decade.

Originally published by: The Australian on 26 Feb 2019