Welcome to the Australian Space Agency

Welcome to the Australian Space Agency!

The following is the very first Newsletter issued by the brand new Australian Space Agency

The Agency is keen to engage with individuals and businesses across the World so we would ask you to Subscribe to our Newsletter.  After you have subscribed then please read and be inspired by this very first, historic newsletter …

Two months in, from Dr Megan Clark AC

The Australian Space Agency has been operational for just 60 days. In that time, space legislation passed both Houses of Parliament, we’ve held industry forums across the country in each state and territory, and convened a national Space Coordination Committee.

Last Saturday our first international Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in Sydney, joining with France to build space industry capability. Civil space engagement initiatives like this with the French Space Agency (CNES) will explore advanced space technology and applications used in earth observation and remote sensing with satellites and high-altitude balloons, space operations and joint missions.

Pictured: Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) President, Dr Jean-Yves Le Gall.CNES with Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC.

Space Regulation

The Space Activities Amendment (Launches and Returns) Act 2018responds to advances in technology, ensuring Australia’s space regulation supports the growth of our capabilities. The Act will commence within 12 months, following the development of subordinate legislation. Anthony Murfett, Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency said, ‘We look forward to developing the framework and working with industry on creating an environment that supports growth, while ensuring safe and responsible activities.’

Industry Forums

A big thank you to those 750 individuals and organisations who we met at our recent State and Territory Industry Consultative Forums. Your feedback is being used to contribute to developing the Australian space sector and the broader economy.

Pictured: Melbourne Consultations

69th IAC Bremen

Looking forward to seeing many of you at the 69th International Astronautical Congress, Bremen, Germany 1-5 Oct 2018.
We’ve partnered with some of the best Australian industry has to offer in space, including the Aerospace Maritime and Defence Foundation of Australia. Register >

In the news
The launch of the Australian Space Agency has captured attention across our nation and the world. If you missed seeing our Head of Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC in the media over the last few weeks, you can catch up right here.Watch Dr Clark on the ABC’s 7.30 Report and SBS News this month.

Stories from across the nation

Highlighting achievements and stories from the space sector.

Electro Optic Systems has achieved significant milestones in its space business in the key activity area of space situation awareness (SSA). The space tracking site at Learmonth, WA achieved initial operations in February 2018, and is now complete.

The Agency acknowledges the successful static test fire of Gilmore Space Corp’s hybrid rockets and the opening of Fleet Space Technology’s ground station. These are an example of some of the great space-related activities underway in Australia.

Copyright © 2018 Australian Space Agency, All rights reserved.

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Australian Space Agency

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CanberraACT 2601


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Media Relations Focal Point for the AIAA’s CMSTC

The following press release issued on 17th November 2015 concerns my appointment by the AIAA Communications Systems Technical Committee (CMSTC) as Chair of their Media Relations subcommittee:


AIAA-logo_newTag_CMYK(130x50)To fulfil the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) vision and mission and live up to the words “Shaping the Future of Aerospace”, the Institute’s strategic imperatives are: to develop and expand our community; to strengthen our existing community; and to deliver exceptional results.

CMSTC is the acronym for the Communications Systems Technical Committee, one of a number of technical committees of the AIAA. The activities of the CMSTC are varied and, as the name suggests, are largely technical in nature. Taking on board the Institute’s strategic imperatives the CMSTC took the decision to establish a focal point for its communications with the media so that it can proactively expand and strengthen its largely engineering based community.

As a result the CMSTC now has a new subcommittee entitled Media Relations.

The CMSTC is delighted to announce the appointment of Bob Gough as the Chair of the Media Relations subcommittee. Bob has spent his whole career in satellite communications, starting as a communications systems engineer with the European Space Agency (ESA) where he worked on some of the very first 3-axis stabilised Ku-Band satellites.

Since then Bob has founded and grown two successful satellite communications companies and has been technically involved in almost all aspects of satellite communications. In addition, Bob has been in senior business development positions with large, public communications, software and defense companies and is still actively involved on projects in an engineering capacity.

Following the highly successful 33rd AIAA International Communications Satellite Systems Conference ICSSC 2015 held on the Gold Coast, Australia, Bob’s first goal will be to ensure that next year’s Joint Conference on Communications Satellite Systems to be held in Cleveland, Ohio in October 2016 becomes the highlight Satcoms conference of 2016. To that end he will seek to increase the number and quality of papers submitted and to increase the number of conference participants.

Bob can be contacted in the first instance via his personal website contact form here.

Issued by:
Communications Systems Technical Committee CMSTC
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
12700 Sunrise Valley Drive
Suite 200
Reston, VA 20191-5807, USA

The Power of SIGINT

As a youngish engineer in the 1980s I’d already had plenty of experience in exploiting the properties of communications signals to solve complex problems. I’d been responsible for planning and executing the in-orbit testing of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first 3-axis stabilised Ku-Band communications satellites, OTS and ECS.

In-orbit testing is a very different game to just designing and using communications satellites on a day-to-day operational basis. The earth stations involved are actually precise, calibrated measuring instruments and one has to be very inventive about how one can exploit the signals and signal processing to understand what is going on, particularly during anomaly investigations.

The Scharnhorst at Sea

The Scharnhorst at Sea

So here was I in the 1980s working with a major UK defence contractor on a project. One member of this small team was a senior engineer, close to retirement, who had been heavily involved in signals intelligence (SIGINT) during WWII. It was he who conveyed to me the following account of his involvement in the fate of the German battleship, Scharnhorst, in WWII. It’s a fascinating story and despite some searching I haven’t been able to corroborate it nor find any reference to the specifics, so I’ll record it here as-told for posterity:

The Scharnhorst had been causing havoc on allied North Atlantic convoys in 1940 and 1941, and Wikipedia’s description The German Battleship Scharnhorst is very comprehensive. An RAF air raid on 24th July 1941 caused major bomb damage to the ship and it limped into the German-controlled French port of Brest on 25th July where it went into dry dock for extensive repairs.

Bletchley Park Mansion Today

Bletchley Park Mansion Today

The Scharnhorst and its state of readiness were obviously of intense interest to the allies and its communications were the subject of continuous monitoring. Most folks today will have heard of Bletchley Park and its role in breaking and exploiting the German (and other) encrypted communications. There are published reports of the Bletchley Park teams using the ENIGMA decrypts of the Scharnhorst’s communications (COMINT) to gather intelligence on the progress of the repairs. What are not reported are the other related activities of ELINT and SIGINT, and this is where my colleague comes in.

A Typical WWII HF Radio Monitoring Station

A Typical WWII HF Radio Monitoring Station

Bletchley Park carried out other functions in WWII and was but one of a number of related intelligence establishments. My colleague worked at a HF radio station outpost on a hilltop somewhere in England which was continuously monitoring the Scharnhorst’s radio transmissions.
One of the things he was monitoring was the close-to-carrier spectrum of the Scharnhorst’s transmissions. He wasn’t interested in the COMINT, but the deep behaviour of the RF signal itself.

Now for the techy bit: The RF carrier is not a perfectly clean CW signal by any means. It carries information about how the signal itself was generated, and what has happened to it during its generation, upconversion, transmission and downconversion by the monitoring station. What my colleague observed was that, in dry dock, the Scharnhorst was running on shore-based power – not its own generators. The phase noise / spurious signal sidebands were at 50Hz from the carrier signal. Lo and behold, one night some time before the 8th February 1942 these sidebands suddenly jumped in frequency to 400Hz. The Scharnhorst had switched to its own internal power, and was therefore in the water and preparing to leave Brest!

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Brest

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Brest

Obviously, this information was immediately fed into the system and resulted in a step up of activity by the allies. On 8th February 1942 a photo reconnaissance mission detected that the Scharnhorst plus two sister ships, the Gneisenau and the Prinz Eugen were in the Brest harbour area and preparing to leave. They left at 23:00 on 11th February 1942 (some reports state Scharnhorst cast off at 21:14 British time) to run the gauntlet of the English Channel (codename Operation Cerberus) and the rest is history.

That escape from Brest and the subsequent failure of allied electronic warfare (EW) systems to detect them is described in great detail in the book “Battle Scars of Military Electronics – The Scharnhorst Breakthrough” by Sir Robert Watson-Watt of Radar pioneering fame.

The Sinking of the Scharnhorst

Sinking of the Scharnhorst, 26 December 1943
by Charles E. Turner

The above painting is in the UK’s National Maritime Museum, here.

Relevance in Today’s World
Apart from this story being a record of a particular individual’s contribution in the SIGINT field over 70 years ago, there are lessons here for today. That very same technique can be employed to narrow down the geographical source of interfering signals in satellite communications systems. It is but one tool that can be used in the fight against the curse of satellite interference.

In financial terms alone satellite interference (intentional or otherwise) costs the industry many tens of millions of dollars each year and is the subject of a number of mitigation programmes by the major satellite operators, a major one being the Satellite Interference Reduction Group.

Satellite Interference Reduction GroupThe Satellite Interference Reduction Group (IRG) is the global industry organisation with the mission of combating and mitigating radio frequency interference (RFI) for an interference-free satellite frequency spectrum.

With a decent size antenna, a low phase noise downconverter and a spectrum analyser one can easily determine the frequency of the power grid supplying the interfering transmitter. Is it in a 50Hz country, a 60Hz country, on a ship, on an aircraft or even space-based? One can glean even more information than this, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

And remember, you heard it here first!

Copyright 2015 Satellite Spy (Dr Bob Gough)