RADIO astronomy and Australia’s space industry received a boost recently when the WA Space Centre was officially opened.
The WA Space Centre, located 40 km from Mingenew and 400 km from Perth in the 114 hectare satellite park designated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), is in the radio quiet zone.
It is owned and operated by Space Australia, a subsidiary company of the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), which invested $8 million in the project.
The radio quiet zone is an area in the Mid-West protected by federal legislation that prevents the further introduction of sources of radiowave activity and emission such as electronics.
This prevents any interference occurring when telescopes like those at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory attempt to pick up radiowave activity from outer space that is hard to detect.
"The pristine environment in Australia's mid-west is ideal for radio astronomy due to the lack of any man-made radio signals that could drown out the faint radio sources we're looking for in the sky” Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research Professor Peter Quinn says.
“To protect this one-of-a-kind location the Federal and State Governments have set up a radio-quiet zone to ensure any activity in the region works within the requirements for radio astronomy”, he says.
The SSC is the largest commercial operator of satellite tracking ground station facilities.
The State Government hopes to attract interest from China, Norway’s KSAT, Japan’s JAXA, the European Space Agency and the United States’ NASA and Intelsat in creating additional facilities on the site.
Ground stations have already been created by the SSC’s other subsidiary company, Universal Space Network, and NASA while Geosciences Australia has constructed a Moblas laser ranging facility and the University of Tasmania, a radio telescope.
The Industry, Science and Innovation Division of the WA Department of Commerce confirmed Chinese interest.
“An agreement with China is already in place in preparation for China’s launch of two modules for the International Space Station” Industry, Science and Innovation Division spokesperson says.
Current facilities include the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory where Horizon Power recently built a Faraday cage to enclose the power plant that supplies the facility and prevent the data from radio interference.
Data from the facility is sent via fibre optic cable in Geraldton to the Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre in Perth for analysis.
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