The AUKUS alliance of Australia, the UK and US would boost collaboration between Washington and Canberra in space, Australian Space Agency Head Enrico Palermo said.
Palermo was speaking on a panel with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson which also discussed Australia’s role in the next crewed mission to the moon, known as Artemis.
Palermo said that Australia signing the Artemis Accords — a guide to space exploration principles signed by Australia, the US and other countries — was a sign of its commitment to “the rules and norms that seek to ensure the safety, stability and sustainability of outer space.”
“I should also note that the AUKUS discussion is a further indication of the growing depth of collaboration between our two nations and the UK,” he added. “And we hope this momentum continues with even greater trade and collaboration across the space sector in the near future.”
The role of space in AUKUS was glossed over initially, as the announcement about ending Australia’s submarine deal with France in favor of nuclear-powered submarines took precedence, but space is a critical part of any military action because satellites are needed for communication, navigation and weapon guidance.
There are fears that nations such as China or Russia could target those satellites in any escalation of hostilities, leaving countries including Australia “deaf, dumb and blind.”
Australian Strategic Policy Institute defense analyst Malcom Davis said China poses a threat to Australian, UK and US satellites.
Davis said that China and Russia have also demonstrated “soft kill” attacks that disable or deny access to satellites.
The space domain is critical for a war that is “precise, decisive and rapid, reduces the cost in lives lost, and minimizes the prospect of failure,” Davis wrote.
“Reducing the prospect for a successful counterspace campaign and denying China and Russia the ability to deliver a decisive ‘Pearl Harbor’ in space is probably the most important goal for AUKUS,” he wrote. “Such an attack would quickly take away any knowledge edge and dramatically boost the risk of rapid defeat, leaving the three states effectively ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ in a crisis.”
Nelson spoke about Australia’s longstanding alliance in wars, and in space — dating back to when the Parkes Observatory was part of the Apollo missions.
He referred to Australia’s role in the 1969 moon landing, and promised that NASA was preparing to announce more details about Australia’s role in the Artemis mission.
“We’ve been partnering with the Australian space agency to identify potential collaboration on the moon, because we’re going back to the moon. We were there before, but this time, it’s to stay and to learn and prepare to go to Mars,” Nelson said.
“We’ve identified an opportunity that will enable Australia’s expertise to align with NASA’s exploration capabilities, and it’s gonna be a great partnership,” he added.
Asked to elaborate, Palermo said: “Stay tuned.”
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