• Industry Engagement Coordinator, Melanie Bushby speaks with Director General Air Defence and Space, Air Commodore Phil Gordon during the Joint Project 9360 Space Domain Webinar. (Defence)
    Industry Engagement Coordinator, Melanie Bushby speaks with Director General Air Defence and Space, Air Commodore Phil Gordon during the Joint Project 9360 Space Domain Webinar. (Defence)

Defence’s Space Domain Awareness (SDA) roadmap has evolved since a Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued to industry in the middle of 2020, and it now looks to deliver capability in a number of tranches under the overarching JP9360 program. 

In an industry briefing on 3 September, Director General Air Defence and Space Air Commodore Philip Gordon said that Australia was entirely reliant on the US for SDA, but the government has made it clear that sovereign capabilities in this area is critical before an indigenous satellite program places spacecraft into space.

“We know that space is not a benign environment where everyone plays nicely, we need to be able to independently verify whether our satellites are experiencing a malfunction or if they’re under attack, so we can make the right decisions to protect and defend them,” he said.

“SDA is absolutely critical to space control and everything we do in space, it seeks to give us an independent ability to assess and verify what’s going on in space and, at the same time, contribute to a broader SDA enterprise with the US and our allies.” 

JP9360 was launched in July 2020 and replaces six individual projects: Air 3029 Phase 2, JP9350, JP9351, JP9352, JP9355 and JP9356. The programmatic approach aims to deliver a distributed, multi-technology and multi-layered approach to SDA, including threat warning and attribution; detecting, tracking and characterisation of man-made and natural objects in space. The JP9360 roadmap highlighted during the briefing replaces earlier thinking about capability acquisition and instead will promote a number of tranches that are intended to respond quickly to the rapidly-developing technologies in SDA sensors and mission control systems.

AIRCDRE Gordon said it is intended to seek Government approval every two years or so and develop a rolling approval cycle under the tranche approach, intended to continuously build a suite of systems to deliver space domain awareness. Initially, the approach will be for industry to supply data as a service (DaaS), but later tranches will develop a sovereign data capability and mission systems to provide sovereign command and control.

The first tranche of JP9360 will include delivery of the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) at Exmouth in Western Australia. The “First Light” milestone was achieved in March 2020 and RAAF air surveillance operator training began in April 2021, with the first demonstration of integration of the SST in the new facility followed in July. Construction of a Mirror Recoating Facility (MRF) designed, built and maintained by Australian industry will commence production in early 2022. The facility will support SST operations and obviate the need to send mirrors to the nearest other facility, located in Hawaii.

Tranche 2 of the Sensor Capability aspect of JP9360 will focus on ground-based optical sensors, as these have been assessed as being at higher levels of technical maturity than other sensors, such as passive radar systems. The program will seek a range of complementary optical sensors, of different types and located in different locations across the country. Government approval is expected towards the end of 2022.

“We’ve chosen that approach deliberately to de-risk this next tranche and make some early progress, we don’t have to build facilities or go through a Public Works process, we can pay industry to deliver a DaaS capability and we believe that gives us the ability to work at the speed of relevance. We’re not choosing one ground-based optical sensor, I’ve challenged the team to find a way to support up to three companies to deliver three different systems, so we can start receiving a diversity of information,” AIRCDRE Gordon explained. 

“Importantly, we’re not choosing between French and German submarines, we’re choosing which will be the next batch of capabilities we introduce into our system, and which will need more time and investment to mature. This is not a binary choice, but about building out multiple sensors to give us multiple vantage points.”

Government approval for other sensors, including passive radar systems is anticipated to follow in 2024 co-incident with initial Mission System capability commencement. 

An in-depth analysis of JP9360, including a look at the range of sensor systems available will be a feature of the November issue of ADM.

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