LOCKHEED MARTIN AUSTRALIA FIREOPAL PROGRAM
What does Lockheed Martin Australia, a subsidiary of one of the worlds largest weapons/defence manufacturers and Curtin University located in Perth, Western Australia have in common? Well, you will be pleased to find out it’s not weapon’s of mass destruction. But the final frontier – space.
In 2018, Curtin University and Lockheed Martin Australia announced “a joint Research and Development (R&D) partnership to establish a new Space Situational Awareness (SSA) network in Australia” aptly named FireOPAL – as reported by Curtin University.
Their goal? To develop the ability to track orbiting satellites and meteorites (plus other forms of large space debris) with a large array of ground based cameras. Designed to help “preserve the space environment over Australia by reducing the risk of collisions.”
The joint Curtin and Lockheed Martin FireOPAL program would go on to extend the capabilities of the already existing Australian Desert Fireball Network. Originally designed to track and study meteorite fireballs in the hopes of understanding more about our solar system.
Since then, Curtin University has developed a wide range of new “SSA-related capabilities” thanks to their many industry R&D partnerships, announcing yesterday that:
“Our space science and SSA-related capabilities [now] include astrophysics, spacecraft engineering, optical tracking systems, radio astronomy engineering, GNSS navigation, positioning and timing, remote sensing and satellite research.”
WHAT IS ‘SPACE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS’?
Space Situational Awareness, also known as Space Domain Awareness (SDA), is a system designed to monitor and track potentially dangerous space debris (meteorites, asteroids and other objects) to protect orbiting satellites and other space craft.
Many space agencies across the globe host their own unique SSA programs. The European Space Agency (ESA SSA Program), Russia’s Military Space Surveillance Network (SKKP) and the U.S.’s Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Space Surveillance Network all work together to help keep space safe for orbiting craft.
However, what sets Curtin and Lockheed Martin’s SSA Network apart from the rest is their innovative and alternative approach.
FIREOPAL SSA NETWORK
Typically, SSA networks use “high value, high-resolution, narrow angle sensors, that deliver precise position data but image a given object rarely.” This can cause “custody” problems; when sensors lose track of an object, according to Curtin University researchers.
FireOPAL is miles ahead of your typical SSA network because of the number of sensors used and the high volumes of data the system is capable of processing in such a short period of time. This “removes the need to do advanced orbit propagation, because [it] never lose[s] custody of an object,” according to researchers.
In a 2018 press release, Lockheed Martin Space’s International Vice President and Australian Rod Drury, stated that “This partnership with Curtin University further demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s ongoing commitment to collaborating with Australian researchers and industry to identify and develop advanced technologies for the space domain.”
With the help of Curtin University, Australia is now on the forefront of space technology innovation. And with industry partners like Lockheed Martin and technological advancements such as FireOPAL only scratching the surface of what is possible – it’s safe to say the future of Australia’s space industry involvement looks promising.