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Friday, December 4, 2020
Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts

ANU to launch cutting-edge space facility

Australia and the world will soon be able to access massive amounts of locked away data captured in space at incredibly fast speeds, thanks to a new specialist facility at The Australian National University (ANU).

ANU will build Australia’s first Quantum Optical Ground Station for Mt Stromlo Observatory to communicate with spacecraft, with $800,000 funding from the ACT Government.

The station will help researchers and industry better access unused data about our Universe as well as enable better monitoring of our own planet.

The project, which also includes a new telescope, is worth up to $2.4 million in total.

Project lead, Dr Francis Bennet from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said the new station will develop technologies that enable licence-free and secure high-bandwidth data transmission to and from space.

“Most of the data we capture from satellites and instruments in space never finds its way back down to Earth,” Dr Bennet said.

“The on-board processing in these machines means we are often left in the dark about our own planet, as well as the mysteries of the Universe.

“For example, the Keppler space telescope launched by NASA to discover Earth-sized planets was only able to transmit 1% of the data it captured back home. That means we missed out on 99% of what was found.”

The station will also develop technology that could one day replace the undersea fibre optical cables global telecommunications are currently reliant on.

The ANU station will be the first in an Australian network of optical ground stations, with partners in Western Australia, South Australia and New Zealand.

ANU Provost Professor Mike Calford says this region is ideally located for the new station.

“Canberra enjoys exceptional natural conditions for this type of work. And it is backed by the world-leading and globally recognised space research and development taking place each day at ANU,” he said.

“This new station will help position Australia and the ACT as one of the world’s leading centres in the burgeoning field of quantum space communications, and boost the nation’s space efforts.

“And it will help launch Australia’s space communications capacity, allowing us to tap into multi-billion space communications markets across the globe.”

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