Sunday, September 04, 2011

Dr Space Junk throws down the gauntlet to the Australian space community on orbital debris

Well, I exaggerate a little.

Last week the National Council of Research in the US released a report calling on NASA to get serious about orbital debris.

Ashley Hall, a journalist from ABC's PM current affairs programme, called me for comment.  You can listen to the interview here.  He also talks to orbital debris guru Donald Kessler.

At the end of the interview, I make a case that Australia should become more than a passive observer to the efforts of the space agencies and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.

There are a number of reasons why this makes perfect sense:

1.  Australia has a number of non-operational and functioning assets in space:  FedSat, Australis Oscar V, and the Aussat/Optus telecommunications satellites.  We rely very heavily on satellite services.  Orbital debris is a problem for us as much as anyone.

2.  Orbital debris often re-enters over Australia - a function of our large landmass and location.

3.  Because of both the above factors, not to mention plenty of radio-quiet space and political stability, Australia is ideally suited to host tracking and surveillance facilities (which we have done, and still do, a lot of).

4. We have a great track record in tracking expertise, and have local industries developing innovative capabilities in this field (eg EOS).

5. Recently we have signed a couple of agreements with the USA to increase collaboration on Space Situational Awareness.

6.  We are located in a global navigation satellite systems "hotspot" - in a decade we will have access to over 40 such systems (apparently).

7.  In the past (ie before the Howard era), Australia had a good reputation in middle power diplomacy.

8. Now that we are starting to take space seriously, with the Space Policy Unit and a new space policy on the way, and funding for space research, it is important to build our credibility.

9. Australia has a (rarely used) place on the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

You see my drift?  If I hadn't managed to fill up my sabbatical with other writing obligations, I would write a paper about this for the Monthly or something like that.  Perhaps I still will.  Anyone want to collaborate on it with me?

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