Defence kicks off first stage of Australian space domain awareness capability

It will be used to help identify threats and monitor debris and space weather events.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Australian Department of Defence has announced plans to build a space domain awareness (SDA) capability for the Australian Defence Force in light of the country's growing space industry, in addition to the recent establishment of the Australian Space Agency.

Under the SDA Project JP9360, the capability would be built to help identify threats to Australian and allied space-based capabilities, inform about the location of spacecraft, monitor man-made and natural debris, and identify space weather events.

"JP9360 will deploy a diverse set of space surveillance sensors around the country, network those sensors to an enterprise data repository, and develop a suite of analytics and user interface software to generate domain awareness products from sensor data, intelligence, and other relevant information sources," Defence said.

The Department of Defence added the capability would be connected and integrated with the United States and other coalition space operation partners to enable worldwide sensor coverage.

"In the event of any temporary disconnection from this global network, Defence will retain a limited SDA capability to support our highest priority missions until connectivity can be restored. JP9360 is not attempting to deliver an independent SDA capability with worldwide sensor coverage," Defence said.

The build would also see Australia rely slightly less on the US and other coalition space operations partners to monitor and control the space domain on the country's behalf.

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It noted the SDA capability must be open source and would comprise of four main capability elements: Data sources, data processing and storage, mission system, and software engineering.

Within these elements, the SDA capability would feature major components, including sensors connected to a central data warehouse that uses a wide area networking infrastructure, data from industry-operated sensors supplied to Defence, a data warehouse that acts as a central depository for processed data, a suite of software to execute SDA missions, and a DevSecOps platform to enable continuous software updates.

As initial steps, the Department of Defence has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for the Space Surveillance capability 1 -- Initial data sources only, which is focused on exploring industry solutions for delivering initial data sources or purchasing data under a fee-for-service model.

Defence said the outcome of this procurement would support the development of other capability elements for the SDA project, which will be built over multiple years.

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"JP9360 is taking an incremental capability development approach to building an SDA capability over multiple years that can rapidly adapt to evolving operational needs and adopt emerging technologies," the RFP said.

"Each project will be independently approved by government for a new block of capabilities. The project seeks to collaborate with Australian defence industry and academia to build a strong sovereign industrial base to support the SDA capability."

Following this RFP process, Department of Defence said it intends to conduct a request for tender process that is anticipated to commence in Q4 2021, with plans to meet a delivery date of 31 July 2022.

The closing date for submissions for this RFP is 12 October 2020.

The Australian government cemented plans to return to space during the 2018-19 Budget when it committed AU$41 million to create the Australian Space Agency, which now calls South Australia's Adelaide home.

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