Overview of Satellite Ground Stations in Australia
According to the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), Earth Observations from Space (EOS) are the single most important and richest source of environmental information for Australia. They enable a wide range of essential services to be given to the community, with multi-billion dollar annual benefits to the nation as a whole.
EOS are transmitted from satellites to users via reception dishes known as ground stations. While an increasing number of satellites are downlinked by the satellite operator’s country and transmitted through the internet, the ground station is still a critical component in Australia’s Earth Observation infrastructure because it receives direct broadcast satellite missions for Australian users and it can be a powerful contribution to international satellite operators in gaining access and influence to their missions.
As stated in Australia’s Civil Space Strategy, “Our remote regions not only benefit from space technology, they play an important role in hosting ground stations that enable communications between space and Earth”.
Australia’s geography offers the ability to host ground stations, regional data hub services and calibration facilities as a partner in international EOS activities. This competitive advantage is not leveraged to the full extent possible however, in part due to capacity constraints in communications, distinct portfolio funding for operating use by different agencies and current and anticipated spectrum pressure for ground stations.
Australia’s current EOS ground station infrastructure has developed organically offering opportunities for further coordination.
Revitalisation of the ground segment is a necessary step for Australian EOS. The foundations for revitalisation are:
- A coordinated national network of EOS ground stations providing geographic coverage of the continent and surrounding Exclusive Economic Zone and territories.
- Security of spectrum licence for a multi-decade period through mechanisms such as remote location and designation of ‘space parks’ at appropriate locations.
- Access to assured, affordable, high-speed communications.
- Establishment of internationally valuable calibration and validation facilities to raise Australia’s international profile.
Overview of ANGSTT
The Australian National Ground Segment Technical Team will establish, operate and enhance a National EOS ground network that will provide access to data generated by satellites from a wide variety of government and potentially non-government sources.
The Australian National Ground Segment Technical Team will act to:
- Establish a coordinated national network of EOS ground stations;
- Increase collaboration and sharing of knowledge between the Australian public sector satellite ground segment infrastructure operators;
- Drive cost efficiencies and data reception efficiencies through reduced duplication and increased coordination;
- Provide a single voice within government for feedback and advice on the Australian satellite ground segment including related topics like spectrum; and
- To provide current and future satellite missions with a coordinated technical point of contact within government for ground reception queries.
The Australian National Ground Segment Technical Team was formed in early 2017 but its origin goes back much further. Many of the agencies currently involved in ANGSTT were also involved in its precursor: the Western Australian Satellite Technology and Applications Consortium (WASTAC). WASTAC had a long history in Western Australia going back to the early 1980s when there was just a manually operated L-band dish at Curtin University. In 2016 WASTAC held a strategic planning workshop in which a series of recommendations were developed about the windup of WASTAC and the creation of a new entity (ANGSTT) and these were presented to the WASTAC board which then approved them.