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Defence in space: securing the new frontier - Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, Minister for Defence

 

28 July 2020

Most Australians would be unaware of how much we rely on space technology to power our everyday lives.

From my morning walk using a fitness app, to my video conferences with defence ministers around the globe, to creating and transmitting this very piece of writing – it all relies on space technology in some way.

As Defence Minister, I have seen first-hand how space technology has saved lives.

During the bushfires and COVID-19 we have used vital, space-enabled technology, including global positioning systems, satellite communications and imagery, to help us efficiently deliver emergency responses to Australian communities.

And in conflict, Defence uses space technology to communicate with deployed forces, giving them real-time information to help them protect Australian interests.

Put simply, space technology is life-changing and life-saving. So it is vital that Australia retains a technological edge so we can protect our national interests and our freedom to access space.

But space is becoming more congested and contested.

With more than 2,600 satellites orbiting the Earth, and more being launched every year, the coordination of safe access to space is complex. We must maintain access to protect of billions of dollars’ worth of military and commercial assets against space debris, collisions and malign acts.

This is why the Prime Minister and I have announced the investment of $7 billion over the next decade in space capabilities as part of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan.

This builds on the development of the Australian Space Agency and underscores the Government’s commitment to Defence’s space capabilities. To achieve this, we will focus on three key areas.

Firstly, we are enhancing our sovereign capabilities to assure our access to space. That means Australian forces being able to control what we see and when we see it. This is crucial to the safety and capability of our deployed forces.

The Morrison Government is taking the first step towards introducing Australia’s first fully owned and controlled military satellite-communications constellation.

In addition, we will strengthen our sovereign capability by building upon existing plans to develop overhead imagery capability by 2035. This will provide a greater understanding of the IndoPacific.

Our plans also include enhancing Australian Defence Force space control capabilities to counter emerging space threats to Australia’s free use of the space domain. This will assure our continued access to space-based communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

To ensure a coordinated and targeted approach to capability and policy decisions, the ADF Space domain will sit within the Royal Australian Air Force, led by the Chief of Air Force.

Secondly, Australia is deepening cooperative relationships with key international partners and allies. While our sovereign capabilities are growing, we achieve far more when we work in collaboration with close partners.

This is demonstrated through Operation DYURRA – a dedicated ADF space operation that will integrate space capabilities, services and effects into wider ADF operations. DYURRA is the word for “stars” in the Ngunnawal language.

Operation DYURRA also includes integration of ADF space operations with our partners through the US-led Operation OLYMPIC DEFENDER. This operation enhances allied cooperation to strengthen deterrence against hostile actors, improve their interoperability, and reduce the spread of debris.

Defence is also working with the US, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, France and Germany through the Combined Space Operations Initiative to strengthen norms and standards of behaviour and to leverage our combined capabilities.

Thirdly, we recognise the importance of developing technologies locally to protect our space assets, and offering opportunities to export these capabilities to our international partners.

Our Australian space industry is growing rapidly, creating significant opportunities for Australian industry and jobs for Australians.

This means helping Australian minds create Australian technology to promote and protect Australian interests. And the opportunity to export this capability to help our international partners.

The recently-announced $50 million in space research and innovation activities, focussing on new and emerging technologies, is key to creating greater industry capacity.

My passion from space was ignited when I worked at the Tidbinbilla tracking station in the ACT, contributing to work by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Then as Senator for Western Australia, I brought a keen and longstanding advocacy for WA’s space industry which has been around since the Muchea Tracking Station was built in 1960.

Now as Defence Minister, I was proud to commit $87 million to boost our vital Defence facilities in Exmouth this week, when I visited two facilities which house critical space technology.

The C-Band Radar and the Space Surveillance Telescope in Exmouth are central to our space domain awareness efforts with the United States.

This impressive technology is just part of a burgeoning space enterprise in our State. In the Murchison, the Square Kilometre Array, which is co-hosted by WA and South Africa is already unlocking secrets of the universe. Curtin and UWA have formed the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, while the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Bentley gives us homegrown, big data capability.

Add the Murchison Widefield Array, the Desert Fireball Network, the European Space Agency's deep space antenna in New Norcia, the Perth International Telecommunications Centre, the Western Australian Space Centre and the Learmonth Solar Observatory, and it is clear WA plays a vital role in the national space industry and international cooperation.

With the perfect combination of low population density, minimal electromagnetic interference and good air quality, WA is ideal for radio antenna, telescopes and other sensitive electronic measuring devices needed for both civilian and defence space projects. 

Space is truly the new frontier of both global competition and cooperation.

And with the Morrison Government’s investment and Defence’s commitment to new technology, WA stands ready to play a vital role in the protecting Australia’s interests in space.