09 May Space domain awareness & congestion
Over the last sixty years, humankind has launched thousands of objects into space and in the process has created large amounts of space debris in addition to defunct and operational satellites. The space debris ranges in size from rocket bodies the size of a bus through to hundreds of thousands of objects less than 10 cm in diameter. With orbital velocities exceeding 8 km/second, the kinetic energy in even small objects is sufficient to cause catastrophic damage to satellites. The orbital debris problem exists at all satellite orbits but is exacerbated at low orbits (<1200 km) due to the vastly larger quantities of debris objects at lower orbits. The challenge that this presents is significant as many of the new space projects under development are destined for these low earth orbits. These projects include constellations of thousands of communication satellites, earth observation satellites, academic research projects and remote sensing capabilities.
Currently Australia accesses information on objects in space through military organisations and relies upon the US Department of Defense to compile this data. Australia contributes to this knowledge through a range of sensors located within Australia and is party to a multi-lateral Space Operations Centre organisation that facilitates space domain awareness. With growing commercial interests in space and rising levels of orbital congestion, Australia needs to determine whether this arrangement is suitable for the future and whether additional sensors and data management capabilities within Australia will better assure space domain awareness and our understanding of risks and hazards to our space economy due to events occurring in space (including space weather).
OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH
By virtue of its geographic span from coast to coast and southern hemisphere location, Australia is uniquely placed to make valuable contributions to global efforts to better characterise objects in space (operational satellites as well as inactive satellites and space debris).
The establishment of a network of ground-based systems including optical (narrow field of view and wide field of view) sensors and radar (active and passive) systems which are tasked by a mission control system would be of real value. The observations would be stored in a unified data lake where they would be available for object characterisation, orbit determination and conjunction analysis.
This Space Domain Awareness (SDA) system would provide situational awareness for Australian space objects, allowing operators to manoeuvre satellites to avoid collisions with other resident space objects such as uncontrolled space debris. The network of sensors could form a dual use system which would meet Australian Defence and civil space requirements (thus addressing Australian space agency goals for SDA). Australia would also be able to contribute observations to international partners to assist with global efforts to improve SDA and contribute to efforts to better manage space debris.
1. Development of a roadmap for establishment of a network of Australian based sensors for detection and characterisation of objects in space. Capability is to include orbit determination and conjunction analysis to identify objects at potential risk of collision.
2. Establishment of a network of Australian based SDA sensors. The network will be controlled by a mission system and the observations stored in a unified data lake to enable characterisation of objects, determination of orbital parameters and predictions of orbital conjunctions.