To infinity and beyond

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The reinvigorated energy around getting Australia into space, culminating in the establishment of the Australian Space Agency (ASA), has been building for some time. Those that have lived and breathed this domain before it became ‘popular’ are working hard to keep this momentum going.

Even as this edition went to print, SpaceFest had kicked off in SA, a joint effort between DST Group and RAAF. Several companies were set to showcase their capabilities in a series of trials designed by DST to assess their ability to detect and track objects in space, with trials at the Woomera Test Range.

Defence aims to forge partnerships with industry to develop the Department’s space capabilities through events like SpaceFest. Companies taking part included EOS Space Systems, HEO Robotics, Inovor Technologies, Lockheed Martin Australia, Silentium Defence, Western Sydney University (WSU), and Curtin University.

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne stated that the event will enable the Department to assess Australian industry and university space surveillance capabilities first-hand.

“The event is backed by Plan Jericho, which aims to develop a future force that is agile, adaptive, and fully immersed in the information age,” Minister Pyne said. “The Woomera Prohibited Area has a low-risk of electromagnetic interference, and clear visibility conditions with reduced risk of cloud, which is helpful when testing optical sensors.

“Defence is also seeking to partner with industry on existing and emerging space surveillance capabilities through a request for tender, which is currently open to the industry through AusTender.”

Plan Jericho aims to develop a future force that is agile, adaptive, and fully immersed in the information age; a fifth-generation-enabled and fully integrated combat force. The next generation of Plan Jericho thinking, known as The Edge, unveiled at the Avalon Airshow last month. This updated approach builds on the initial themes that Jericho has supported.

According to RAAF, The Edge has two distinct meanings:

“Creating a fifth-generation edge – In a capability sense, Air Force must deliberately explore the edges of the fifth-generation force to find and exploit opportunities for advantage that come from new ideas and new technologies. Partnering with others is critical – both to harvest external ideas, but also to realise the enormous creative potential in the Air Force itself: We need to accelerate our ability to find and make sense of opportunities and induct them, so that when we step out the door on operations, we can give our people new tools or existing tools with a tweak, quickly and confidently.

“Operating at the edge – In an operational sense, our fifth-generation capabilities provide the foundation to impose dilemmas across multiple domains simultaneously. But we have to build creativity and agility into the way that we operate so that we can harness the power of people and machines working together to continually generate and impose new dilemmas.

“Part of this is having the flexibility to distribute decision-making power across the force so that we can optimise our decision tempo and quality for different situations – sometimes decisions will be centralised, sometimes they will be decentralised. We need both options.

To achieve this, Plan Jericho will lead the pursuit of four augmented intelligence lines of effort to help realise the intention to create, accelerate, and harness competitive advantage:

  1. Autonomous processing to infuse machine processing power throughout the force.
  2. Advanced sensors to detect and track chalenging targets in difficult environments.
  3. Combat cloud to optimise decision and action tempo by integrating the fifth-generation force and enabling resources from across the force to be distributed and applied as a unified whole.
  4. Human-machine augmentation to optimise individual and collective human and human-machine performance.

Space has a role to play in each of these four pillars. Space generated data is so much more than communications and GPS. While these are important enablers, the expansion of space capabilities to include low earth orbit sensors and finely honed tracking technology means the sky is the limit.

The Whole of Government approach to space under the ASA is not to be a US-like NASA body (we have neither the dollars or drive to do that), but to help build an environment where the opportunities offered by space can be taken advantage of by the whole economy; from Defence to agriculture to transport to education and everything in between. In the words of a great spaceman – ‘To infinity and beyond’.

This article first appeared in the April 2019 edition of ADM. 

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