US space company LeoLabs will build a new space surveillance radar in south-west Western Australia, substantially increasing capabilities to detect and track the growing number of objects in orbit.
The West Australian Space Radar (WASR) will add to the company’s network of radars, in New Zealand, US, Costa Rica, and the Azores in the mid-Atlantic.
WA will be the company’s sixth radar site and their ninth and 10th radars. Work will start at the facility on leased property near Bunbury in December, and the radar is expected to be fully operational in October 2022.
LeoLabs Australia director, former RAAF AIRCDRE Terry van Haren (ret), said the site would feature two S-Band one dimension phased array radar systems which would network with the company’s other radars.
“It will complement the location and orientation of the Kiwi system and capture as much traffic as possible in the southern hemisphere,” van Haren told ADBR. “What we are doing here is building a global network of these radar systems. That will give us opportunities to measure and track all the objects in Low Earth Orbit. We are trying to get a global distribution of these radars.”
LeoLabs has big plans for Australia, proposing two more radars to be built in-country under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative and located in northern Australia, giving additional coverage of low earth orbit plus surveillance into deep space, including geostationary orbit.
Australia already possesses some space surveillance capabilities. Harold E. Holt base in Exmouth, WA hosts a former US space telescope and surveillance radar. Canberra company EOS operates laser and optical tracking facilities in Canberra and Learmonth, WA.
New capabilities are on the way. Hensoldt Australia is proposing a novel space surveillance system using existing astronomical telescopes.
The challenge is to keep track of an ever growing number of satellites and space debris in Low Earth Orbit. The European Space Agency counts more than 28,000 objects.
LeoLabs sells its data commercially to a range of customers including SpaceX, Maxar, and the US Space Force. A future customer could well be the Australian Defence Force which is developing its own Space Domain Awareness capability.