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Australia to host global space research group to keep satellites safely in orbit

2 December 2014

International and Australian space researchers and companies will work together as part of a new collaboration to determine ways to monitor and potentially move space debris that put satellites at risk.

The Space Environment Management Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) based at Mt Stromlo Observatory near Canberra will tackle the complex and commercially important issues of managing space debris and preserving the space environment.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said $19.8 million from the Government would enable the CRC to bring together experts from around the world to look at ways to protect around 3,000 operational satellites.

“This new CRC is an international collaboration and will harness the combined knowledge from a range of prominent science and research organisations and businesses,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“This includes the NASA Ames Research Centre and Lockheed Martin from the US, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology from Japan and our very own Optus and EOS Space Systems.

“They will also be joined by experts from both the Australian National University and RMIT University.”

The CRC’s industry-led research will focus on tracking space debris, improving predictions of space debris orbits and predicting and monitoring potential collisions in space. As part of this focus it will develop ways to modify the orbits of space debris to help avert collisions.

“Today, only 10 per cent of 300,000 major space debris objects are monitored and around trillion dollars’ worth of space assets risk being transformed from valuable technology to floating space junk if a major collision occurs,” Mr Macfarlane continued.

“International studies show that as the amount of space debris continues to rise, the satellite-reliant technologies that we depend upon every day are at risk of becoming unavailable.

“This project will research ways to enable affordable monitoring of all major space debris objects, through developing low cost optical-tracking sensors and better management strategies.

“Australia is a world leader in optical space tracking, a key technology for protecting satellites, and has the existing infrastructure and data for effective research, making it the ideal country to host the CRC.”

The Government has appointed business leader David Miles AM to review the CRC Programme so it can deliver on national priorities for collaborative science and research and is closely aligned to industry needs.

Media contact: Mr Macfarlane's Office 02 6277 7070