The Australian government announced on March 22 the creation of a military space command modelled on the United States Space Force.
“Space is increasingly crowded and already contested”, not least because the lines between “competition and conflict are becoming increasingly blurred,” said Defense Minister Peter Dutton.
In a speech to the Australian Air Force general officers, he said that space “will take greater military importance in this century”.
This new space “armed wing” – nicknamed “Space Command” – will be modest in its beginnings, underlined the minister, without giving figures or staff assigned to this project.
Peter Dutton indicated that this command would aim to counter the military ambitions of China and Russia in space and all the countries that, according to him, “see space as a territory to be taken, rather than ‘a territory to be shared’.
The space agency will be led by Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts – “a science fiction enthusiast” – who will oversee a team of members of the Australian army, navy and air force, and private partners.
If it is to be “modest” at first, Australia will need “space forces in the future,” said Peter Dutton.
According to The Guardian, the Australian Department of Defense plans to spend $7 billion over the next ten years to develop the country’s defense potential in space.
The command will work closely with the Australian Space Agency, based in Adelaide (South Australia).
Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the allocation of $47 million to develop the country’s space industry. As part of this funding package, the government intends to invest more than $23 million in developing spaceports and launch sites in Australia and send the same amount to the development of the national space agency.
The Australian Space Agency, established in July 2018, officially opened its headquarters in Adelaide in February 2020. At the same time, the authorities announced large-scale investments in the space industry, for which they later opened two additional divisions – the Space Research Center and the Mission Control Center.
China able to disable Australian satellites
China has the ability to suppress Australian satellites in low-Earth orbit, says the head of the Australian Space Command, Air Force Vice Marshal Kat Roberts.
China’s SJ-21 satellite in January was able to drag a Chinese navigation satellite “from its orbit into an orbit for disposal” of artificial space objects after the end of their service life, she said. As a result, concerns about China’s ability to interrupt communications satellites in space have arisen.
“That Chinese satellite that was moving around and that we were monitoring could actually, you know, if [Beijing, Ed.] decides to do so, just disable the National Broadband Access Network (NBN) in Australia,” she told The Guardian.
She also said that the activities of the Russian Federation and China in space “frighten” her, and in turn, Australia has a lack of potential in this area. At the same time, she noted that Space Command would study the impact on objects in space, for example, jamming satellite communications without destroying satellites and creating space debris in orbit. Roberts added that Australia has strong ties with the U.S. in this area at the same time, and Canberra can rely on Washington’s help to some extent.
However, she wondered whether it could be considered an act of war for one satellite to be forced to tow another or disable it.
“Where is the line that separates your rivalry from conflict? And if this happens – the removal of one of your satellites from geostationary orbit, is this a conflict? This has never happened in space,” she said.
Cath Roberts has been a Royal Australian Air Force member for over 38 years and is the most senior female aerospace engineer in the Australian Defence Force. She is currently the Head of Air and Space capability in the Air Force. In January 2022, Cath was appointed as the inaugural Head of Space Division.