Our radio telescopes are designed to observe faint radio emissions from astronomical objects. They can also pick up radio signals from spacecraft. Our Parkes radio telescope, Murriyang, Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and Mopra radio telescope are available for commercial and non-astronomy use. They can be used for passive radio frequency surveillance, bi-static radar and space communication.
Space situational awareness
Space situational awareness (SSA) or space domain awareness (SDA) is increasingly important as the space sector continues to grow.
Our extremely sensitive systems, covering much of the relevant radio spectrum and technical expertise offer the opportunity to support niche applications and track transmitting objects more precisely than most other systems.
Tracking objects in orbit
We have the most sensitive broadband receiving systems in the country. Their smaller field of view can complement other SSA sensors.
For example, we have demonstrated accuracy 50 arc seconds, precision 10 arc seconds at ~7GHz, using five of the six ATCA antennas. We are currently working on improvements in both precision and accuracy to achieve similar results achieved using optical telescopes using non-adaptive optics ~2 to 5 arc seconds.
We are also exploring the potential for sub-milliarcsecond accuracy using very long baseline interferometry (VLBI). This is particularly relevant for medium Earth orbit (MEO) and above, including cis-lunar.
Characterisation of objects in space
Our systems, operating from 700 MHz to 100 GHz, allow us to detect both intended and unintended radio emissions. We are also able to identify important object characteristics such as approximate size, and if and how fast the object is tumbling using doppler radar.
Keeping an eye on known asteroids is important for planetary defence. Tracking their trajectory so we know if they become 'potentially hazardous objects' that could collide with the Earth. Using the transmit capability at CDSCC (NASA) and collaborating with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), University of NSW and University of Tasmania we've successfully detected radar echoes from a number of near-Earth asteroids, helping refine knowledge of their orbits and characteristics such as their rotation rate.
As the only bi-static radar system in the southern hemisphere, we have an important role for the close approaches of asteroids in the southern skies.
Our Parkes radio telescope, Murriyang, began supporting space missions in 1962, when it tracked the first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, as it flew by the planet Venus.
Our radio telescopes are valuable for spacecraft tracking due to their large collecting area and advanced data acquisition systems. Operating as a ground station for space missions complements the astronomy research conducted with our telescopes and helps us maintain these world-class research instruments.