The US-developed telescope had been relocated from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to Exmouth on Western Australia’s Coral Coast through a partnership between the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the United States Space Force (USSF).
The Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) in Western Australia has captured its first images of space, marking “a significant milestone for the Defence space project”, Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced on 24 April.
In a separate statement the USSF said the SST, which is now located at a purpose-built facility featuring a 270-tonne rotating dome at the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station, achieved “first light” on 5 March.
Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said that the 360° telescope, which is now set to undergo extensive testing before officially entering service in 2022, will “enable Defence to better track and identify objects and threats in space including space debris, as well as predict and avoid potential collisions”.
Reynolds, who referred to the SST as a “game changer for Defence”, said the telescope will become “an important part of the global Space Surveillance Network [SSN]”, providing space domain awareness for the United States, Australia, and their key allies.
The force said that moving the SST to Western Australia satisfied “a critical objective to improve the broader USSF Space Surveillance Network’s ground-based electro-optical coverage of the geo-synchronous space regime”.
“First light is a significant milestone in meeting this objective. It means that course alignment of the telescope optics with the wide field-of-view camera has been completed to allow the first images of objects in orbit to be seen by the telescope,” said the USSF.
In this context Lani Smith from the USSF’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) was quoted as saying, “Whether it is space traffic management or the protection and defence of critical space-based capabilities, delivering sensors that continuously improve our ability to maintain real-time awareness of the space domain is essential to facilitate the broader needs of both the US and Australia.”
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