The Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has teamed with Australian-owned company Nova Systems to prototype a new facility for Space Domain Awareness. The formal partnership will deliver a prototype passive array radar system, which can locate and track satellites and space junk orbiting Earth.

The prototype is located at Nova Systems’ Space Precinct in South Australia’s Mid North and is based on the adaption of the Curtin University-led Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a low frequency radio telescope for astrophysics. 

“The passive array radar prototype is a massive step in Australian innovation to collect big data from space sensors,” Nova Systems Executive General Manager Mission Solutions, Andrew Mannix, said. “The technology allows us to see the sky horizon to horizon to detect objects and activities of interest. Because of its broad capability, it is then useful for cueing other narrow-view sensors to take a closer and more detailed look. Space Domain Awareness is essentially tracking the thousands of objects in Earth’s orbit. It is integral to the national interest and protects against threats in orbit. Australia depends on space for communications, navigation, and information from its satellites, so it’s imperative we’re aware of what objects hover over us and could pose a threat. Nova Systems has a strong background in the space sector including supporting the delivery of complex space and satellite communication programs and engineering and advisory services such as mission analysis, space domain awareness, launch safety and regulatory support and training. The partnership with the Curtin node of ICRAR is a significant milestone for us in working closely with academia to innovate and create new capabilities.”

Using a large number of individual antennas, the passive array radar system detects FM radio broadcasts from radio stations on Earth, that are reflected off objects in space. The array is also capable of other Space Domain Awareness tasks, such as monitoring space weather.

ICRAR Deputy Executive Director and John Curtin Distinguished Professor Steven Tingay said the key focus of the partnership with Nova Systems is to help solve Australia’s space challenges and understand how we see and manage what is going on above us. “This new partnership will see the Curtin University node of ICRAR bring our underlying deep understanding of astrophysics and engineering technology to the project,” Tingay said. “Together with Nova Systems we will perform specific Space Domain Awareness missions, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as required by potential clients including the Australian Defence Force.”

An initial 512 antennas are being established at Nova’s Space Precinct, which also hosts several Satellite ground stations, supporting local and international clients to cater for the data download needs of the ever-increasing number of satellites and constellations. Once the Space Domain Awareness facility is complete, more than 2,400 antennas will be installed, with advanced electronics and software systems, the majority of which will be manufactured in Western Australia.

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