Western Australia in Space
Western Australia has a surprisingly long association with space communications and research.
The reasons for choosing a WA site range from geographical location, political stability and allegiance, technical expertise, to wide-open spaces free from radio pollution.
1. Talgarno (& Giles Weather Station)
1950s: at down-range end of Woomera Rocket Range. Some minor rocket firings occurred at Talgarno (Eighty Mile Beach); midway between Port Hedland and Broome. The Giles Weather Station is at mid-range; near the border with South Australia and the Northern Territory.
1960-63: at Muchea 45 km north of Perth to support the US Mercury manned-space missions. The Muchea Tracking Station's location was critical; it was the only station outside the US which had spacecraft command facilities. Perth switched its lights on the greet John Glenn for the first US manned orbital mission over Muchea and was awarded, with international acclaim, the title of "City of Light".
3. Naval Communications Station Harold H E Holt
1963-present: at North West Cape, Exmouth under joint US/Australia control.
The station provided very-low-frequency (VLFF) communications to below-surface submarines via the United States Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS. Australia assumed full control of the ststion in 1992.
1963-75; 900 km north of Perth the station supported:
Gemini, Apollo, & Skylab manned-space missions; Goddard RARR scientific missions; the Solar Particle Alert Network (SPAN) telescopes and Riometer for solar research and support of the manned-space program; a Jupiter Monitor; and the FPQ-6 Radar supporting all the above launched vehicles and various defence and interplanetary missions and providing precision orbital data. The station also supported various balloon programs including CSIRO’s research into the territorial habits of Wedge-tailed Eagles.
1964-65; a series of rocket launches were conducted at Carnarvon and nearby Quobba Station simultaneously with launches from Woomera to support high altitude atmosphere research. The Western Australian launches were tracked by the NASA Carnarvon Tracking Station.
1965-68; at Larrakeyah Point; an occasional Goddard Range and Range Rate (GRARR) site operated by a visiting team from the NASA Carnarvon Space Tracking Station.
1966-1987; OTC-1 (Casshorn ‘sugar-scope’) contracted to NASA to support manned-space program; OTC-2 (dish) to support satellite communications & NASA releasing OTC-1 for command, control, and tracking of geosynchronous communications satellite under contract to Intellsat Corporation. From 1976 OTC supported emergency command & telemetry on several NASA missions and with an additional dish and two VHF antennas was contracted to support the ESA program culminating in Giotto – the Halley’s Comet mission.
1974; 125km north of Perth. A team of engineers and scientists from the US launched several research rockets from Lancelin, on the fringe of the total solar eclipse, to take X-ray observations of the eclipse above the Earth’s atmosphere.
9. Dongarra-Mingenew Space Stations
The MOBLAS-5 station was initially a NASA ‘out-station’ of Orrroral Valley after the Carnarvon Tracking Station closed. It provided voice contact with Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 and again later during the Shuttle missions. The station was extended in 1979 to include a Mobile Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) station. At some time NASA's voice contact faclities ceased but, later in 2009, commercial tracking faclities were established adjacent to the MOBLAS site.
2009 to present
The SSC (Swedish Space Corporation), part of the PriorNet ground network, claiming to be "the largest ground station network in the world", provides Telemetry Tracking & Command and Data Downlink services for commercial and goverment Earth-orbital spacecraft. SSC operates two stations along the Dongara to Mingenew road, Dongara East and Dongara West, nearby the MOBLAS-5 laser ranging station.
10. OTC Satellite Earth Station (Gnangarra)
1987-present; near Perth. Improved satellite communication technology enabled OTC to relocate close to Perth making the Carnarvon station redundant. When the Carnarvon station was closed, OTC continued to support ESA at Gnangarra until ESA built its own station at New Norcia
1993-present; near Geraldton; an ADSCS Defence Signals Intelligence Station, part of ECHELON, a US signals intelligence and analysis network. An expansion announced in February 2007 will include the new Mobile User Objective System (MUOS)facility. This will lead to a more active role for Kojarena.
12. Lockridge Earth Station (Optus)
1993-present; near Perth; primarily for domestic communication.
13. Golden Valley Observatory
2001-present; at Lower Chittering, near Perth. An ex-CRO UHF Troposcatter Communications 10-m dish has been reassembled at the observatory for the ‘Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence’ (SETI) project. The search is conducted by volunteers of the Western Australian Radio Observatory group in association with Astronomy Group of Western Australia.
14. ESA Tracking Station
2002-present; at New Norcia, near Perth. The European Satellite Agency (ESA) built its first 30-m dish at New Norcia to support deep-space projects notably Rosetta to explore Mars. It is manned by a small team and is largely remotely controlled from ESA Control in Germany.
Proposed; on Boolardy Station, west of Meekatharra, midway between the North West Coastal Highway and the Great Northern Highway. The WA government plans to establish a 25 sq. km. radio astronomy park some 30km north of the Boolardy Station homestead. The Commonwealth has announced a A$56.6 million investment in a test-bed Australian Square Kilometre Array to support the development. It is hoped that these decisions will strengthen the Australian bid to win the A$2 billion 17-nation international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project currently narrowed down to two locations – Boolardy, Western Australia and Cape Province, South Africa. A final decision on the location of the international SKA is expected during 2011 with the facility ready by 2020.
Our thanks to Kerrie Dougherty, Power House Museum, Sydney, for her help in sourcing much of this information.