Our Canadian friends are currently considering a satellite mission called the Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) Mission. The mission is quite different from most, in that it has an interesting combination of missions, and will be flying in a somewhat unusual twin satellite High Earth Orbit.
The three main objectives for the mission are:
1. To provide 24/7 telecommunications services to the polar regions
2. Monitor Arctic Weather and Climate Change
3. Monitor Space Weather
Recent space press coverage has focussed on the need for Canada to seek partners in the project, which prompted me to think - could Australia partner in such a mission, and if so, what benefit would it bring to us, in our part of the world? How would this apply to Antarctica rather than the Arctic?
Firstly, looking at the main objectives for the mission - Telecommunications - Australia has a very strong need for telecommunications in the Antarctic region. Australia lays claim to a major portion of Antarctica, and has several scientific bases conducting research. It also claims the Australian Antarctic Territorial Waters surrounding the land claim, and has seen significantly more shipping, fishing and defence interest in these areas in recent years. All of these activities, combined with the new flight routes through this region, have significantly raised Australia's need for reliable communications bandwidth in the Polar Region. Under the Australian Space Research Program, the folks at Antarctic Broadband have also been looking at the problem.
Secondly, Climate Change and Antarctic weather are becoming an increasing priority to Australia as the planet warms up, and the Antarctic weather has strong influence on Australia's weather patterns. This weather is also poorly covered by traditional GEO Satellites due to the polar latitudes.
Thirdly, Space Weather has been a topic of scientific study for many universities around Australia for decades. Having our own ability to generate data over Australia and Antarctica could provide a significant boost in research efforts in Australia for Space Weather. It also helps us develop a higher skilled workforce for defence activities such as Space Surveillance and the JORN facility.
So, how could Australia participate? Given the High Earth Orbit, and dwell over the Artic region, wouldn't that make Australian involvement fairly useless?
Well, there are a couple of ways we could participate. Firstly, for the brief periods that the satellites are over the Antarctic region, Australia could benefit from any telecommunications capacity or weather information that can be generated. Whilst it would be small, it could be commensurate with our contribution.
We could also piggy back on the mission, and purchase a satellite (or even two), to provide the exact same mission as the Canadians, but for the Antarctica Region instead of the Arctic Region. In doing so, the collective cost of each satellite would be cheaper to both Canada and Australia. This would probably deliver the best benefits to Australia, but also come with the highest price.
Next, we could bring together a coalition of nations who are part of the Antarctic Treaty, to share the costs of two satellites, providing telecommunications and weather information to all participants. This would provide a good balance between capability achieved versus price, but would come with the added benefit of Australian involvement in an international space program, and enhance cooperation in the Antarctic region.
Alternatively, we could contribute technologies such as ground segments or on-board technologies such as those from Antarctic Broadband, for a limited use or data sharing agreement. Perhaps this could be of most use for the Space Weather and Meteorological data only.
All up, it would be interesting for the Space Policy Unit to open up a dialogue with the Canadian Space Agency on the PCW mission, to explore where our mutual interests could be further enhanced through cooperation.