Sunday, August 21, 2011

Australian Space Needs: Telecommunications

Australia is one of the most suited countries in the world for Satellite based telecommunications due to our large size, and geographically spread population. It is also no surprise that Telecommunications has been one of Australia’s most successful segments of the space industry for many years. Globally speaking it is also one of the most successful commercial industries within space with an estimate $80 Billion revenue size.

Telecommunications encompasses a wide range of different applications that Australians use every day, without paying much attention to it. Space based telecommunications used in Australia include:
  • Television broadcasting
  • Consumer Broadband Internet Services
  • Satellite Telephone Services
  • Telecommunications backhaul services
  • Remote Site Communications such as mining sites or defence requirements
The Australian Space Government website identifies that there are at least 14 satellite operators that provide satellite communications to, from and within Australia, and the ACMA highlights that growth in the global industry was 38% from 2000 to 2005, with this level of growth expected to continue. So far this year, many telecommunications companies have released close to double-digit business growth including Optus who recently reported a 9% jump in Satellite revenue.

A little bit of history.... 

Back in the early 80’s, a government telecommunications provider called Aussat was created, and on the 27th of August 1985 launched its first satellite – Aussat A1 via the Space Shuttle Discovey. Aussat A1 provided communications services for both civilian and military needs, as well as television broadcast to remote regions in Australia. It was located at 160° east in Geostationary orbit, and remained operational until 1993.

Aussat A1 being launched from the Space Shuttle Discovery (Photo:

Not long after, Aussat A2 and A3 were launched in November 1985 and September 1987 respectively, providing Aussat with a fleet of operational telecommunications satellites in orbit, and a unique capability to Australia. The A-series satellites were Ku Band satellites, and were built by Hughes (now Boeing).

In 1992, Optus purchased Aussat including the A-series of satellites, and moved ahead in acquiring the B-series of satellites to meet growing demand. On the 13th of August 1992, the Optus B-1 satellite was launched, with the launch failure of the Optus B-2 satellite occurring the 21st of December 1992. Optus B-3 was then developed and launched on the 27th of August 1994 to replaced the failed B-2 satellite.
The Optus B3 Satellite (Photo Credit: Optus)

For the next generation of satellites, Optus teamed up with the Australia department of Defence, with Optus C-1 using the Ku band for civilian telecommunications, and UHF, X and Ka bands for defence purposes. Optus C-1 carries significant television broadcasts, including Foxtel, ABC Australia, Aurora (remote free to air television), and other channel’s (7,9,10) digital broadcasts. 
The D-series of satellites include D-1 (launch: 13th Oct 2006), D-2 (launch: 5th Oct 2007), and D-3 (launch: 21st August 2009). These satellites replaced the B-1 and B-3 Satellites at end of life, and expanded capacity of the C-1 satellite through co-location. The D-series of satellites provides television broadcast services, two way voice and data services to Australia and New Zealand, as well as services to Australian and NZ government departments.

The Optus D1 Satellite (Photo Credit: Optus)

In total, Aussat / Optus has had a fleet of 9 working satellites – certainly the biggest of any Australian organisation.  

What’s next for Satellites?

Looking to the future, there are several major developments underway that will underpin the future of space based telecommunications in Australia for the years to come.

Firstly, Optus has recently announced that it has just ordered a next generation Ku satellite (currently named Optus 10), and is planned for launch in 2013. This will ensure that their capabilities will last long into the 2020’s.  

NBNCo is right in the middle of making a decision about ordering two Ka band satellites to cover the complete Australian continent, allowing high speed broadband and telecommunications to all those Australians not covered by fibre optic or wireless technologies. 

Thirdly, a company called NewSat  is planning on launching its own fleet of telecommunications satellites called “Jabiru” over the coming years, and are in the advanced planning stages of the satellite procurement.

In this respect, the space based telecommunications future in Australia looks very bright!

Ground Segments

On the ground segment side of things, Space based telecommunications has had a long and successful history in Australia. Just before Aussat A1 was launched, Aussat (now Optus) also opened its Sydney Earth Station at Belrose, which still remains one of the most important space facilities in Australia. I’d also highly recommend the recent ARN article here about the Belrose earth station – it’s a great read.

The Optus Belrose facility (Photo credit: ITnews

In addition to the Optus facility at Belrose, Australia also plays host to a number of major ground segments for international space agencies including NASA, ESA, JAXA. Major ground stations around Australia include the NASA Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla, the Perth International Telecommunications Centre, ESA’s facility at New Norcia and the NewSat centres at Bayswater and Mawson Lakes.

Main defence ground segments include the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station (ADSCS) at Geraldton, the Shoal Bay receiving station, and the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap. 

For those of you who are interested in the ground segment side of things, the ACMA currently has a discussion paper out about Earth Station siting – particularly in relation to spectrum issues. You can read more about this or make a submission here with the pdf of the paper here 

The Space Telecommunications industry in Australia has had a long and successful history in Australia and and has a very bright future, both in Space and On-ground. With Optus, NBNCo and NewSat all looking to build new satellites over the coming few years - expect big things to come.  


  1. Australians use every day, without what is mpls paying much attention to it. Space based telecommunications used in Australia include:

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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