She adds: “Australia is in the early stages of investigating further cooperative opportunities with the U.S. as well as possible indigenous space situational awareness capabilities.” The department will not comment directly on whether the radar, designated FPS-134, will track Chinese launches.
Despite Australia's eagerness to develop a space situational awareness capability, Richard Tanter of the University of Melbourne believes that in this case, as in others, Canberra is taking its default position of automatically responding to a U.S. request for assistance. “We are not asking many questions about this,” he says, while noting that Australia will at least have greater understanding of space issues as the RAAF develops its skills.
The Australian government, long resistant to taking much interest in space, appears to have finally decided that the issue is important, says Brett Biddington of Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. For political and security reasons, the government is emphasizing civil sides of the activity, such as monitoring debris. Biddington's view is that this key issue is a conveniently valid cover for developing more military capabilities, which jibes with the department's statement that it is looking at further development in space situational awareness.
For watching Chinese launches from Taiyuan or points farther west, it is a happy coincidence that there is already a joint Australian-U.S. communications facility at the new home of the FPS-134 radar, North West Cape.
The telescope could be based at the same location or at Geraldton, says the Defense Department, presumably referring to the Kojarena satellite communications station inland from that remote Western Australia town. A final decision to move that sensor to Australia has not yet been made. “Australia and the U.S. are currently in the early stages of investigating all the issues associated with moving the space surveillance telescope to Australia,” says the spokeswoman.