New antenna in southern Tasmania taking on key role directing satellite traffic

A new antenna in Tasmania’s southern midlands is enabling communications and commands to be sent to satellites orbiting earth — the first time Australia has had this capability.

The two-way communication means satellites can have their orbits changed to avoid collisions, can be directed to make specific observations, and ground support can be provided for space missions.

The $2 million antenna has started operating at a time when Australia is significantly increasing its space industries, including plans to use the Arnhem Space Center in the remote Northern Territory to send rockets into space.

Canberra-based Skykraft has hitched a ride on a SpaceX rocket to launch a project aimed at improving Australia’s air traffic management, with an ambition for 200 satellites launched in two years.

The antenna at Bisdee Tier in Tasmania will mean Australia will no longer need to rely on other countries — mostly in western Europe — to send commands to satellites on its behalf.

The seven-meter antenna in southern Tasmania has been developed in partnership with the Australian Space Agency.(ABC News: Adam Holmes)

Professor Simon Ellingsen of the University of Tasmania said it would improve Australia’s space radar capabilities.

“Before we were just able to receive signals from space with some of our other antennas. This one gives us the chance to transmit up, and also to do some work in finding out where objects are in space with the space situational awareness,” he said.

“Australia is starting to launch a lot more satellites. And because of companies like SpaceX being able to launch more cheaply, there’s satellites being launched for both scientific and commercial purposes.”

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The number of active satellites orbiting earth sits at about 5,000 — up from 2,000 in 2017.

Given most have polar orbits, they are more commonly seen closer to the poles. This means Tasmania is an ideal location for tracking.


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