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U.S. Space Force deploying surveillance telescope in Australia

The telescope was designed to track and identify debris and satellites more than 22,000 miles above Earth.
Space Surveillance Telescope. Credit: MIT Lincoln Lab

WASHINGTON — A U.S.-developed space surveillance telescope has been assembled at a new facility in Western Australia and is expected to start operating in 2022, the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center announced April 23.

The telescope, designed to track and identify debris and satellites more than 22,000 miles above Earth, was developed a decade ago by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Agency. Between 2011 and 2017 the telescope was tested at the Atom Site on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. DARPA handed over the telescope to the U.S. Air Force in 2017.

The United States and Australia signed an agreement to base the telescope in Australia in an effort to fill a fill a gap in the U.S. Space Surveillance Network coverage of the Southern Hemisphere. The United States shares the SSN network of ground-based sensors with key allies, including Australia.

SMC said the telescope last month achieved “first light,” meaning that course alignment of the telescope optics with the wide field of view camera has been completed, allowing the first images of objects in orbit to be seen by the telescope.

The Australian government built a new dome for the telescope at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia. The facility has a 2-megawatt central power station. The telescope will undergo tests before entering service in 2022. The Royal Australian Air Force will operate the telescope jointly with the U.S. Space Force’s 21st Space Wing.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...