US Space Radar at Exmouth

C-Band Space Surveillance Radar being installed at the remote Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt north of Exmouth, in WA.
C-Band Space Surveillance Radar being installed at the remote Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt north of Exmouth, in WA.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will be looking a long way past aircraft ceiling height and into space by 2016, thanks to the recent acquisition of a C-Band Space Surveillance Radar.

Brought to Australia in June with the help of the US Air Force and a 36SQN C-17 Globemaster II, the radar is being installed at the remote Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt, north of Exmouth, Western Australia.

Planned and delivered by the DMO through project AIR3029 Phase 1, this is the first time that the RAAF has operated such a capability.

Project manager Mike Carney says the radar will assist the development of a Space Situational Awareness capability in Australia and will strengthen the US global Space Surveillance Network's ability to track space assets and debris.

“It will contribute to the global public good by making this information publically available and providing satellite operators around the world with warnings of possible collisions between space objects, thereby reducing the danger posed by space debris,” Mike says.

The US had decommissioned a C-Band radar in Antigua in the Caribbean that was used for telemetry tracking of space launches in Cape Canaveral.

“It could be adapted for space surveillance,” Mike says.

“They were prepared to move it to Australia and set it up with our assistance. We bought all the construction materials and services, built a new building and an eight-metre high pedestal for the radar to sit on as well.”

Mr Carney says an existing building was refurbished at the same time and in a bonus to the local economy, contracts were kept local whenever possible. 

“It is a substantial structure,” he says.

“The radar weighs 60 tonnes and has a 10 metre-wide dish. It took two C-5 Galaxy’s and one 36SQN C-17 to get it here and once on the ground at RAAF Base Learmonth, our air load teams took the equipment off.”

Mr Carney said US Air National Guard personnel were tasked with the dismantling and cleaning of the radar before its transport and construction in Exmouth.

“It was used as a training exercise for construction and engineering personnel from the Air National Guard. They were sent to Exmouth on a two week rotational basis,” he says.

 “They came from all over the US.”

Final operational capability is expected around May 2016. It will then be operated remotely by No. 1 Radar and Surveillance Unit at RAAF Base Edinburgh.

The radar is planned to operate seven days a week with Raytheon in Exmouth maintaining it.

Mr Carney said due to its previous use for telemetry tracking of space launches, new software was being developed.

“Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in the USA is developing new software for the radar so it can operate in the surveillance role,” Mike says.

“It’s unique and the DMO have not done a project like this before. It’s a complicated project that is progressing very quickly."