Science News

Australian intelligence agencies prepare for small satellite deployment

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian intelligence agencies are planning to experiment with small satellite technology, which typically includes aircraft and marine vessel tracking as well as weather forecasts, as part of a tie-up with San Francisco-based space data and analytics company Spire Global.

The Djara satellite, developed for Australia’s Office of National Intelligence, is scheduled to be deployed from the International Space Station early next month, Spire said in a statement to Reuters.

“While Djara is not at operational capability, it will provide the Australian national intelligence community the ability to explore the potential applications of commercially available small satellite systems,” Spire said.

The tie-up between a commercial satellite company and a government agency is the first of its type in Australia, and is part of a growing industry where large numbers of tiny satellites - that can weigh less than a small suitcase - provide information to their commercial and government clients from their low-Earth orbital viewpoint.

Australia’s Office of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to questions after hours.

The Australian government recently set up its own space agency and also nominated the sector at last week’s budget as one it will support through funding measures.

Australia, a vast continent in Asia-Pacific, is an important site for ground stations, used for space missions and by satellite operators to communicate with their orbiting hardware.

A West Australian ground station is among several around the world that will no longer allow access to Chinese customers after current contracts expire due to geopolitical concerns, Reuters reported in September.

Spire’s small satellites obtain data by tracking planes, ships and other vessels, while also providing information that helps with the analysis of weather patterns and forecasts.

The company said the Djara satellite was named in honor of the indigenous Ngunnawal people of Australia’s capital, Canberra. Djara is a Ngunnawal word for stars, the company said.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Tom Brown