HENSOLDT Australia has unveiled a new mount for the University of Tasmania’s 50cm optical telescope located at Greenhill Observatory in Hobart.
Provided by HENSOLDT Australia as part of the company’s ‘Southern Guardian’ collaboration with the university, the new mount was commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque on 19 July by Tasmanian Minister for Science and Technology, the Honourable Madeleine Ogilvie.
The mount allows for more flexible and faster movement of the telescope, significantly improving the space-tracking capabilities of the system.
Among its other capabilities, the telescope is part of a unique array with six radio telescopes and radars operated by the University of Tasmania and HENSOLDT Australia across Australia.
The array is capable of observing objects in a range of orbits from near-Earth to lunar distance and beyond. It can track objects including satellites and space debris, as well as distant space missions and asteroids further afield.
“I am delighted to unveil the HENSOLDT Optical Telescope Mount plaque today at the University of Tasmania’s Greenhill Observatory,” Ms Ogilvie said.
“The upgrade to the Optical Telescope will enable Tasmania to continue its leadership in space observation, strengthen Tasmania’s role as a leader of Space Domain Awareness and build excitement for careers in the sciences,” she added. “Tasmania’s space sector is ascending to new heights, and this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the partnerships that make its continued growth possible.”
Managing Director of HENSOLDT Australia, Scott Reeman said, “This optical mount system will further strengthen capabilities in both Australia’s Space Domain Awareness and space research by the University of Tasmania.”
“It symbolises HENSOLDT’s continued commitment to building national capability through cooperation with the University and the Tasmanian state government,” he added. “This is one more step by the Southern Guardian Team to develop and secure Australia’s critical national space capability.”
Space Domain Awareness (SDA) has traditionally been a capability associated with countries located in the northern hemisphere. Today, SDA has quickly become a specialised-space-based activity for Tasmania which is ideally located geopolitically and technologically to expand Australia’s sovereign SDA capability.
This provides Australia the benefit of seeing these objects sooner than anyone else, and before their angular dispersion spreads them across the sky.
Under the collaboration, the University of Tasmania is providing its assets and expertise, the Tasmanian Government is actively providing support and funding, and HENSOLDT Australia has brought its skills in data-fusion, network management, space battlefield management and visualisation together with a user-friendly operating system.
Professor Simon Ellingsen, Dean of School of Natural Sciences at the University of Tasmania said, “This upgrade to the 50cm optical telescope provides an exciting opportunity to test and demonstrate a range of new space domain awareness approaches.”
“Combining data from different sensors is very much the way of the future and will help keep us at the leading edge of developments in this area.”
HENSOLDT is also investing in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) career pathways in Tasmania that will have national reach and significance, supporting sovereign industry capability.
These opportunities extend beyond the traditional tech-focussed STEAM streams to also include logistics and supply chain, maintenance and sustainment ‘space trades’, business support, and even legal positions as Australia helps to develop and comply with new national and multi-national legal frameworks of space behaviour.
With telescopes and radars located throughout Australia, the Southern Guardian framework has built what Scott Reeman calls a “solid foundation for a national capability now and into the future”.
In addition to its three Tasmanian-based assets, the University also operates a 30-metre dish at Ceduna in South Australia, a 12-metre antenna at Yarragadee near Geraldton in WA, and a 12-metre antenna on the Charles Darwin University campus near Katherine in the Northern Territory. With an ability to fuse the data from these arrays, Reeman describes the capability as a “combined array on a continental scale”.
The system that HENSOLDT calls ASTRA (Australian Space Surveillance and Tracking Radar) will take the technology to the next stage. This sovereign development of the German GESTRA system will use a suite of relocatable multi-technology advanced electronic scanned array (AESA) sensors to detect, track, identify, and characterise space objects.
In 2020, the ADF issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Project JP 9360 to develop its own sovereign SDA capability, and HENSOLDT offered ASTRA to augment the existing Southern Guardian network as a stand-alone or as part of a multi-static network.
The various proposals submitted by industry have provided the ADF with additional information on how best to develop its JP9360 and accompanying JP9358 space electronic warfare project requirements, and potentially bring them together with a more integrated view.
Defence has previously stated that, “SDA underpins all other space missions, providing the ability to identify, characterise and understand factors that affect the space domain. Effective SDA will enable Australia to make considered decisions as to what objects constitute a threat and how to counter that threat.”
These projects will be run through the ADF’s new Space Command which was launched in March 2022, and which is headed up by RAAF Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts. The new command draws personnel from Air Force, Navy, and Army, from Defence public servants and industry contractors, and the Australian Space Agency (ASA).
At the Space Command launch, AVM Roberts said its mission was to, “assure Australia’s access to space. We really need to make sure that Australia’s reliance on services from space are protected, not just the military elements.”
She added that they needed to be able to deliver and contribute space capability much faster than was planned in the Defence Integrated Investment Plan. “I am doing a complete architecture review. We are going to do things really quickly. I have some really good ideas about how we can deliver capability far more quickly than we have in the past,” she said.
“We have a bunch of space domain awareness (SDA) companies in Australia who can provide us with data as a service,” she added. “We are going to do a bunch of minor projects to actually be able to feed information into the SDA picture and we will be able to share that information not only with our allies in the US but also with any country in the region.”
The unveiling of the new Greenhill Observatory mount caps off a busy year for HENSOLDT Australia. In July 2021 the company opened its new headquarters in Tasmania which is now the hub for the Southern Guardian SDA System integration and data analysis
“Tasmania is a collective of first-class capability,” said Reeman at the opening. “We are excited to be opening our Hobart office to work closely with TEAM Tasmania on Australia’s sovereign Space Domain Awareness capability and other local partners to realise opportunities in the Space, Maritime, Defence, and Clean Energy domains together.”
In April 2022, the Southern Guardian team participated in the international SpaceFest activity where participants demonstrated their ability to detect, track, and catalogue objects orbiting Earth.
SpaceFest was part of a joint civil-military, international space traffic management exercise consisting of real and simulated events in which companies collaborate and compete to solve problems, and to understand, predict, and prevent adverse events.
HENSOLDT and University of Tasmania participants ‘chased’ satellites identified by a central management cell, mapped and predicted their orbits, and shared information back into the central team.
Information was visible on large screens in the University’s interim operations room after being processed through HENSOLDT’s Space Battle Management System.