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On a Collision Course with Space Debris

So much of modern life relies on satellite technology, from telecommunications to defence operations, that it would be hard to imagine a world without satellites.

Due to the dramatic increase in the utilisation of cellular communication in the last 50 years, there has also been a dramatic increase in satellite equipment in earth’s orbit.

Although satellite launches and the maintenance of satellite hardware are often prime displays of modern mathematical and scientific capabilities, mistakes can happen.

These mistakes can often lead to situations in which debris is caught in perpetual or finite orbits.

This poses tremendous issues in regards to both maintaining current satellite operations and the launching of new equipment, which would require both constant monitoring and adjustments.

As it stands today there are estimated to be millions of pieces of man-made debris in space, most of which cannot be tracked due to their size, velocity or opportunity to be catalogued.

In a recent lecture Dr Ben Greene, of the Space Environment Research Centre (SERC) at the Academy of Science in Canberra, detailed how the realities of satellite technology mismanagement have increased the possibility of losing satellite communications in the next 20 years.

So why does the Australian government need to be concerned?

Australia has now become one of the world’s nations most dependent on satellite technologies due to our vast geographical layout in conjunction with our highly developed economy.

As a result, Australia has become a world leader, beaten only by the USA, of space debris tracking technology.

This issue has also highlighted the evident geopolitical conflicts that have surrounded the major powers, examples of which can be seen in events such as the Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 and the US and Russian satellite collision of 2009.

The issue of space debris is multifaceted and has grown to be a catalyst for geopolitical disputes.

It’s proving to be an incredible challenge to try and resolve.

Ben Dennehy

$500 Million to Improve Australia’s Space-Based Intelligence

Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne and Minister for Defence Senator Payne have announced $500 million for an enhanced satellite capability.

The investment will be to improve Australia’s space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, to support ADF operations around the world and at home.

Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP and Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Marise Payne on Sunday committed $500 million to improve Defence’s access to commercial satellites to provide information to government agencies.

Minister Payne said that Defence Project 799 was introduced in the 2016 Defence White Paper to enhance Australia’s geospatial-intelligence capabilities.

Phase 1 of the project will provide Australia with direct and more timely access to commercial imaging satellites to support a wide range of Defence and national security activities.

“Defence’s enhanced access to these satellites will increase Australia’s capacity to maintain surveillance and improve situational awareness for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and other national security agencies through the provision of high-quality imagery,” Minister Payne said.

“This means imagery from high-end commercial satellites, now in orbit, will be integrated directly into the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation’s imagery dissemination systems, reducing the time it will take for satellite imagery to get to a member of the ADF or the officers of Australia’s national security agencies.”

Minister Pyne said these contracting arrangements will provide improved value for money for the Australian Government when accessing commercial imagery.

A total of $130 million will be spent on support contracts over the 13 year life of the project for commercial opportunities for Australian companies – including in the Northern Territory and South Australia.

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