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2021 Perry Group Papers

Team SAGAN Overview

Research Topic: What should be Defence’s strategy for the utilisation of the space domain in 2040?

Objective: Rules, norms, and suitable policy are vital to Defence strategy.

Key Message:
Space in 2040 will be congested, contested and increasingly vulnerable to interference. Defence, as part of a Whole-of-Government effort, will need to have the capacity to protect critical space infrastructure and the ability to respond rapidly to potential adversarial actions. This requires prioritisation of space control and awareness technology over heavy launch capabilities, networked global partnerships, a specialist civ-mil-industry workforce, integration of AI, and shortened decision-making cycles in a crisis—all enabled by clear C2 structures.

Key Themes:

  1. The increasing reliance on space will lead to an increasingly contested domain which will require greater controls to limit both deliberate and unintentional chaos.
  2. Australia needs to ensure space assets and services are treated as critical infrastructure.
  3. Government and Defence focus needs to move away from a focus on launch to a focus on control and protection of critical orbital and ground-based infrastructure.

Narrative Synopsis:
It is the year 2040 and space is even more crowded, and key to our national security. After a new satellite arrives in orbit, ground control facilities lose connections to a series of other satellites providing secure communications and navigation services to Australia and allied nations. Is this space interference an act of state warfare? The preliminary moves into conflict? Or a rogue actor destabilising the region and seeking to provoke a crisis? The newly elected Government is trying to play catch-up, and the Australian Chief of Joint Operations (CJOPS) must respond before it is too late …

Space in the Year 2040

Over the last 20 years, the pursuit of space technology and access has been revolutionised through affordability. The miniaturisation of communication and intelligence technologies has allowed new microsatellites to possess significant capabilities. In 2020, there were 3368 active satellites in space, compared to just 2,298 in 2019; and 2021 saw not one but three civilian manned space missions conducted by private industry. By 2040, this growing congestion and reliance on space will lead to an increasingly contested domain which will require greater controls to limit both deliberate and unintentional chaos.

As we look towards the next two decades, it is clear civilian and military lives will be reliant on space-based services for day-to-day operations. Everything from banking systems, television networks, telecommunications and civilian and military GPS applications relies on free and fair access to space and the satellites within it. Communication satellites even assist environmental monitoring, which provides meteorologists the data they need to track the development of large systems like cyclones and the spread of bushfires—which helps populations and emergency responders prepare for such events. If these systems are disabled by accident, or through the belligerence of another nation state or non-state actor, this would have major national and economic security implications.

Responsive space launch capability has gripped people’s focus in 2021 as an emerging technology which seeks to enable a level of flexibility and resilience for orbital launch to provide assured access to replacement satellite systems to meet real-time operational needs in response to adversarial action. Australia itself currently has a focus on establishing heavy space launch capabilities, but it is likely to discover that pursuing this is not cost-effective. The expected economic contraction resulting from the COVD-19 expenditure, the rising costs of multi-decade Defence acquisitions, and the likelihood of cheaper launch options becoming available elsewhere will see Australia and Defence having to make hard choices about which capabilities they can realistically pursue in the space domain.

Rather than invest in a sovereign heavy launch capability of this cost and scale, Defence would do better to pursue access to heavy launch capabilities through partnerships. Opportunities for heavy launch could be explored through extensions to the QUAD and AUKUS partnerships, and smaller launch capabilities through existing facilities in New Zealand. Given Australia’s geographic relevance to space, it could seek to become home to numerous satellite tracking and control stations to ensure it is an influential stakeholder in the space domain. Such control stations will be necessary to monitor increasing satellite traffic over the Indo-Pacific region, with these platforms providing communication and Earth monitoring services essential to the dynamic environment across South-East Asia.

Given this geographic relevance to space, and the criticality of space services to Australia’s security and economic prosperity, Defence should prioritise control and protection of critical orbital and ground-based infrastructure and develop response options in the event that belligerents act in space in a way which threatens national security. This may require work to ensure C2 structures are sufficient for shortened response times, the development of global partnerships in the space domain to leverage technology and cost-sharing, and the creation of a specialised space workforce that can tackle the technological challenges of the future. AI should be integrated into the workforce to streamline

Occam’s Satellite

Part 1 - A Rogue Satellite

At Parkes Satellite Control Station
Saturday 4 Feb 2040, 0743 h

As the rocket launched upwards, blast plumes washed across the screen in a fiery display.

‘We have green launch on INDO-82,’ came the voice of Kate’s auto-drive system, an updated feature on her classic Tesla series S.

Many of her peers still didn’t trust autonomous vehicles, but Kate loved their efficiency. After all, she had been the team lead for the Sagan constellation’s 2030 launch. Sagan had been at the forefront of data linking every Australian vehicle with space-enabled technology and tracking, which led to autonomous vehicles entering circulation in Australia. In 2040, it meant Kate could let an algorithm pay attention to the road while her mental energy was directed to reviewing the morning reports.[1] The launch video finished just as the vehicle turned into the carpark of the Australian Satellite Control Centre in Parkes.[2]

Spanning over 600 square kilometers, the centre was not only home to the Australian Space Agency but also more than 70 private companies involved in all aspects of space technology. Once barren fields stricken by decades of drought were now covered in domes and satellite dishes, contributing to tracking approximately 40,000 objects in visible orbit. The merger of the Agency, Industry and Defence capabilities at the Space Hub[3]had been a huge boost to the region, which had been close to economic ruin thanks to repeated years of failing crops due to climate change.[4]

Pulling up outside the centre, the familiar view of a windowless series of single-storey buildings in front of the enormous satellite dishes greeted Kate. The local community-run coffee van was parked out front with a small queue huddled under an awning for shade from the relentless sun. It was far from what Kate imagined a space centre would look like when her interest in the heavens was first piqued as a Star Trek-obsessed youngster from Perth, but she still felt a pang of pride every single time she entered. The history of space exploration in Australia was significant, with Parkes having played a significant role.[5] It was Parkes that helped land man on the moon during the Apollo missions, and today it continued its proud service to space by managing civil and military satellites at all altitudes across the Indo-Pacific.[6]

Dropping her bags in the change rooms, Kate glanced at the motivational posters and historic artifacts which dotted the hallway leading from her locker to the control room. Upon completing the biometric security scans, she stepped inside as a rush of cool air escaped through the door.[7]

A low buzz filled the control room as the hum of air conditioners mixed with the sound of two dozen people clacking away at their keyboards. There were two tiers of desks separated by a single step. She thought it ironic the layout had been built by a Defence contractor to mimic the bridge of Starship Enterprise, the spacecraft featured in the Star Trek television series that was popular decades earlier. The layout allowed for an unobstructed view from the back of the room to a giant holo-display which dominated the front.[8] Even from the very back, Kate could clearly see the display was filled with tens of thousands of tracking symbols reflecting the real-time location of satellites in visible orbit overhead.

Around the edges of the room, smaller monitors displayed the data of Australian satellites scheduled for diagnostics, updates, or various control activities. Each terminal was staffed by a contractor who specialised in technical operations, each of whom were focused on monitoring their specific section of space. The team leaders and planners were clustered near the centre of the room, with these roles filled by Australian Space Agency civilians and Defence Space Division military staff.[9]

For now, it was all about the wait. Until INDO-82 reached geo-synchronous transfer orbit, the New Zealand-based Mahia Launch Control[10] was in control of the rocket and its payload.

‘Mahia, do you have a separation time for INDO-82?’ Kate asked over her communications link to Tim, the operator controlling the launch.

‘Parkes, separation in 24 minutes,’ replied Tim in his deep New Zealand accent. The American embeds couldn’t tell the difference in accents, but to any Australian it was distinctive. ‘She’ll be right. We’ll get it to you safe and sound.’ Tim was posted to the Mahia Peninsula Launch facility, a New Zealand-based but jointly shared Anzac facility.

 

Tim and Kate had joined their respective militaries in 2025 and had been launching satellites together for the last three years. A shared training continuum for space operations meant they had known each other most of their careers, which made tense moments like transfers much easier.

‘I know how you handle these, Tim. Just get it to the geo transfer,’ Kate whipped back. Having waited almost a week for the satellite to complete its launch and orbital transit, she was keen to get the satellite in position so its support teams could move on to other tasks.

Kate reflected on Australia’s own brief episode of developing a sovereign industrial launch capability and was glad that an ANZAC solution had been developed. Australia’s heavy launch industry had quietly tapered off six years ago after the Government realised private companies were uninterested in utilising, or buying, the relatively outdated and costly Government facilities.[11] The commercial launch ventures subsidised and sponsored by the Government had worked well in the beginning, until Government funding and tax incentives had ceased. An economic contraction in the 2020s brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was still being felt decades later and the cost of Defence’s decades-long acquisition projects continued to rise. Responding to an increasing number of climate emergencies had compounded these costs, and the Government had had to make hard decisions about which technologies to continue to support. As the anticipated reduction in costs for launch had never eventuated, private companies simply moved offshore once Government subsidies ceased. Australia still retained world-class satellite construction, engineering and orbital software development, but after winding up its own launch industry, partnered with New Zealand in sustaining the New Zealand-based Mahia Launch Facility.

‘Boss, you want a cuppa?’ Travis called out from near the door, his flight suit unzipped and dog tags bouncing on his chest, despite not having strapped into a JSF for years. Within Parkes’ Space Control Centre, Travis was the Authorised Operator for the Active Debris Removal System (ADRS) laser system used to slow and deorbit debris for burn-up in the Earth’s atmosphere. He was also the liaison for use of the lasers for Defence activities. Thanks to the cube-sat tech race which culminated in late 2028, the clutter of space debris in orbits had made it too risky to transit large sections of space. ADRS had been deployed globally by numerous countries to restore order.[12]

Today, though, the one person in the room authorised to use a laser in space was juggling a tray of various mugs—having been rostered on brew duty for the day. ‘Sure Trav, make it a double,’ Kate replied, absently moving the loose lock of brown hair that kept falling in her face, not taking her eyes off her tracking screens.

Kate had lost two satellites launched from Australian facilities while serving 12 years as a Satellite Vehicle Officer within Defence. Each had felt like losing a friend. After speaking each day for years with the satellite AI, Kate thought of them more as colleagues with their own quirks, rather than machines to manage. She lost her first as a result of debris moving too fast for her to manoeuvre the satellite out of the way. The debris had hit a coupling span connecting the solar sails to the main body. It had been a slow death as the satellite lost power and continued to be hit with debris before losing its orbit and burning up on re-entry. She had been cleared of fault once the investigation found the physics of avoiding the initial debris had been unachievable.

The second had nothing to do with her but had complicated her work immensely. A series of anti-satellite missile exchanges between North Korea, China, and the US had resulted in almost two dozen destroyed satellites.[13] Even worse for the rest of the spacefaring community, the resultant Kessler Effect of debris had rendered some orbital planes useless for years.[14] Kate and her fellow operators had worked around the clock, seven days a week for one year to completely reposition entire satellite constellations to avoid projected debris. Soon after, Kate decided to transfer to the Agency for better work-life balance. She was glad Defence had since invested in growing the space operations workforce and using AI as a management tool to lessen the workload.

As INDO-82 traversed the holo-display, a green box started flashing around it. Kate let out a satisfied sigh at the symbol of the handover process commencing.

‘Jake, you finish the admin exchange on this one,’ Kate tasked her junior SCO. When he had finished, she jumped back onto the comms link. ‘Mahia, thanks again for the great work,’ she called out to the Launch Control Team.

‘Parkes, any time,’ Tim replied, then his voice came back with increasing agitation. ‘Wait ... Do you have comms with INDO-82? It is no longer responding to our commands.’

‘Mahia, wait,’ Kate replied before staring across the Ops Control Room at the holo-display.

It also showed INDO-82 was no longer reporting. Radar was tracking it, but it may as well have been debris. ‘Angel, do you have a connection with the Constellation or Satellite AIs?’ Kate asked her AI.

‘Negative, Kate, I am not receiving response signals from any of the five constellations at this time.’ Angel replied in her quiet voice through Kate’s headset.

Cursing, she realised Travis, their on-duty military liaison, was still out of the room. ‘Someone get Travis back in here now!’ Kate shouted to the other operators. ‘Mahia, this is Parkes,’ Kate called back to Tim in the Launch Centre. ‘We can see INDO-82, but don’t have comms. Do you have anything?’

‘Negative, Kate. Last we had INDO-82 was entering geo transfer orbit on the planned trajectory.’ The door bumped open with Travis almost falling through as he pushed through the security doors and dashed over to his terminal.

‘Trav, INDO-82 arrived then we lost comms. Get your ADRS constellation scanners up and let me know what you can see.’ Through Defence’s critical network of terrestrial and space domain awareness infrastructure systems, Travis could track and target debris faster than with their standard radar.[15]

‘Roger boss. OK, last comms was three minutes ago,’ Travis reported back as he read through his AI notifications. ‘ADRS maintained track of orbital positioning complete from INDO-82 in Quadrant 1 of OB224.[16] Positive identity confirmations from birds in Quadrants 1-3, all platforms locked into friendly satellite tracking. All green. Then ... that’s it.’

‘Trav, confirm you or Steve weren’t running any deorbit firing sequences off the ADRS?’ Kate asked, just to be sure. It would be the blunder of the decade if she had supervised a friendly launch straight into lasers conducting debris deorbiting firing.

‘No, Kate, you know we don’t let those ops run without me at the desk,’ Travis replied calmly. The hologram of his AI named Steve that was visible next to Travis’ terminal also gave Kate a thumbs up. Steve pointed to his virtual chest to show his digital medals for a good record. Even with Steve’s good track record, Trav was still the authorised operator who would go to jail if they vaporised one of the numerous wealthy space tourists or university research projects that were all too common in Low Earth Orbit.[17]

‘Roger, Trav. Just had to ask.’ Kate then looked around the control room: ‘Any other track or reports for my immediate action?’

Sarah, one of the Agency's junior communications technicians, piped up: ‘Ma’am, there are increased emissions near INDO-82’s last known trajectory path. No source identified yet but it’s blanketing our uplink channels.’

OK… ladies and gentlemen, we have a potential foreign counter space operation,’ Kate declared into the room, starting the first stage of the emergency protocol—one they had long trained for, but still dreaded. ‘Start logging the data we have. All desks, confirm comms with satellites, report all non-comms with birds under our control. I don’t care if it’s a civil or military bird, I want to know if we have positive control for all of them.’

‘Roger ma’am,’ a chorus of voices called out. A short time later, various reports came through. In total, five critical satellite constellations were now out of communications with the ground stations.

Switching comms links, Kate moved to the next step in the protocol, linking in with the other parts of the allied network. ‘Vandenberg,[18] this is Parkes. We have a potential foreign counter space operation. We have lost comms with five constellations. Data pack being sent through now. Request you seek to gain comms or monitor for additional jamming in other regions.’[19]

‘Parkes, this is Vandenberg,’ the voice from Parkes’ sister Satellite Control Centre replied. It sounded like Michael, but Kate wasn’t sure given the noise in the ops room. ‘Data pack received, stepping up to monitor now. Stand by.’

‘Ma’am?’ Sarah interrupted before Vandenberg could provide its update. ‘From what I can tell the jamming emissions are broadcasting across multiple frequencies which we use for our satellite comms, engineering data, as well as any of the positional navigation channels.’

‘Any source yet?’ Kate responded.

‘Nothing specific, ma’am, but given emissions strength and limited coverage it must be getting broadcast from within …’. Sarah paused to look at the holo-display. ‘I would call it in vicinity of INDO-82’s expected position, but I can’t pinpoint where it’s generated from.’

Kate paused to see if Travis had heard. He gave a thumbs up and kept looking at his screen as it tracked the satellites and debris moving through the area. Taking a breath, Kate gritted her teeth and adjusted her headset. Opening the comms link for broadcast across all partner stations, she initiated the national response protocol. ‘All stations, this is Parkes. We have a jamming event impacting five satellites constellations. Source origin to be confirmed with Defence. Most communications, engineering, and navigational channels and other critical infrastructure are currently jammed. All stations stand by for data pack and further guidance.’

‘AUSSPOC, this is Parkes. Do you acknowledge jamming events?’ Kate called specifically to the Australian Space Operations Centre based near Canberra.

‘Acknowledged, Parkes. Prepare to hand-off once AUSSPOC stands-to.’

‘Roger AUSSPOC,’ Kate responded. It was no longer her problem to solve. She’d just have to trust that those higher up were ready.

Part 2 - Canberra, We Have a Problem.

At AUSSPOC,  somewhere near Canberra
Saturday, 4 Feb 2040, 0807 h

With the cool detachment that led her to be assigned as a crisis manager years earlier, Leigh blinked once to direct her smart contact lens to call in support from the heavens.[20] ‘Indo-Pacific Space Station, this is AUSSPOC. Can you confirm the status of platforms in OB224-228?’ Leigh worked for the Australian Space Agency at the AUSSPOC in Canberra.

‘AUSSPOC, this is IPSS. We can confirm all platforms in OB224-228 are non-responsive,’ a heavily accented voice replied.

‘Is that you Faruak? Cheers. Let me know if you guys have any issues up there.’ Leigh’s smart lens read her thoughts aloud to the Indonesian astronaut posted to the Indo-Pacific Space Station.[21][22]

Leigh blinked twice so her smart contact lens would read her eyes’ electro-oculographic signals and instantaneously zoom in on the tracking records for the Australian geo-orbit belt she was monitoring.[23] There were more than 300 satellites, nearly all part of networked constellations providing global services; including imagery, communications, and navigation. The last satellite to join the group was the INDO-82, an ASEAN sponsored platform designed to carry open-source imagery and environmental sensors which would be accessible to all ASEAN members without security restrictions.

Farauk’s response confirmed it. Parkes had rightly been spooked by the control drop. Lifting the red crisis phone, Leigh took the next step, notifying the Australian Crisis Management Centre (CMC). The phone’s haptic ability meant the receiver’s ear would be tugged three times upon answering to indicate this was not a drill.[24]

‘Morning, CMC, this is AUSSPOC. We have an incident of space-to-space spectrum jamming occurring in geo-orbit, currently five Orbital Boxes impacted, 327 platforms currently non-responsive. Suspected source within Australian GOZ in the vicinity of OB 224.’ Leigh’s calm voice belied the activity that was now spinning up in the AUSSPOC Ops Room.

‘Thank you, AUSSPOC. Please provide regular updates. We will commence executive authority notifications,’ came the crisp response from the Crisis Management Centre operator.

‘Will do, CMC, AUSSPOC out.’ Leigh put down the receiver and turned back to her own Ops Room. What she had just escalated to the CMC would create a buzz of new work. She began to task out orders. ‘Jane, please fetch the Director for an update in five minutes. Simon, I’ll need you to prepare a briefing for CASA, Border Force, Treasury …’. As she ticked tasks off the augmented reality list, her lens flashed in front of her; Leigh caught sight of Umang, the Indian exchange officer from the Indian Space Research Organisation. His hulking body-building figure reminded her of the need to initiate similar warnings across the partners’ network. ‘Umang, please contact your government and advise them we have lost signals from INDO-82. They may be experiencing issues communicating with their Andaman Sea Fleet conducting maritime trade route security.[25] We’ll also have to notify the UK, US and French fleets who are engaged in SCS FONOPS.’

Part 3 - Butterflies in Space

Parkes Satellite Control Station
Saturday 4 Feb 2040, 1256 h

‘Bloody hell!’ yelled Travis from his terminal. ‘Kate, are you seeing this?’ Kate was intently studying the central holographic display, overlaying analysis filters to try and figure out if there was something outside of the Australian orbital space causing the issues.

‘What is it, Travis?’ she replied without looking over.

‘You probably don’t want to see this,’ Travis said, frustratingly enigmatic. Sighing, Kate broke her concentration and headed over to his terminal. Travis’ terminal was configured for more detailed scans of the orbital belts and the satellites themselves. Rounding the desk, it took her a second to orient her perspective to the semi-transparent 3D terminals which visualised the upper atmosphere and orbital space that Travis monitored.

‘Put it up on the centre holo-display Trav,’ Kate ordered. She always preferred to look at problems in large scale 3D rather than on the smaller terminals. The overlay that appeared on the central holo-display etched faint lines connecting many of the satellites.

Pointing to one series of networked lines coloured red, Travis explained, ‘This is our AUS-US secure comms network over the Indo-Pacific.’ He pointed to another series of lines coloured yellow, ‘This is the ASEAN military and maritime communications network.’ Pointing to a third set, coloured white this time, ‘These are the government and commercial imagery satellites overhead.’  Kate swore aloud as the realisation of what she was seeing sank in. ‘It gets worse, ma’am,’ Travis added. With a few keystrokes, he activated a time-lapse of the overlay.

If it weren’t for the holo-display, Kate wouldn’t have seen it. ‘It is like the affected area of the networks are slowly …’ she struggled for the best word to describe it … ‘…drifting. Where is it headed?’ Travis had already done the calculations and displayed a red marker indicating the centre of the emissions. It showed a point currently in an orbit rising above the Pacific Ocean, but moving roughly north-east. A moment later a red trajectory path appeared on the display showing the centre of the affected area passing over the Philippines and South China Sea. Interrupting their analysis, Michael spoke over the comms networks.

‘Parkes, Vandenberg. Have you checked the satellite count yet? We are registering a weak track moving through your control orbits. Are you seeing it too?’

‘Michael, we have a situation here,’ Kate began to reply. ‘Wait, what extra track in 226?’ she asked with concern.

‘Kate, there is another satellite moving in parallel to INDO-82. It is not registered and not responding to any engineering signals. There is no match to any IFF scan,’ Michael clarified.

Quickly moving back to her own terminal, Kate manually checked the tracks in OB226. There it was. An extra satellite.

Part 4 - Horns of Dilemma

Joint Operations Command
Saturday 4 Feb 2040, 1315 h

The smell of burnt coffee wafted into the conference room as the last staff member of the Rapid Joint Effects Targeting Board[26] entered. The collection of senior advisors sat quietly in swivel chairs, waiting for Commander Joint Operations (CJOPS). ‘Is everyone ready to go?’ the Chief of Staff asked the assembled members. Nods in response ensured everybody was ready to brief. ‘Righto then.’ Seconds later, Lieutenant General Michael McCrain, CJOPS, walked in and sat down. ‘The board is ready to go, sir. ADRS detected the rogue satellite 20 minutes ago and has an intermittent track of it,’ the Chief of Staff announced.

‘Good, let’s go,’ CJOPS responded.

The briefing moved at pace. CJOPS was keen to explore his response options before the rogue satellite and its jamming extended over the South China Sea. The screens on the side of the room showed various timelines, satellite trajectories, and lists of critical networks that were currently being disrupted, and those predicted to be affected. A micro holo-display in the middle of the conference table provided a 3D visual of the section of space they were discussing. The flashing red box and its red trajectory plot ended the formal briefing.

‘Jim, have we confirmed with the US the impact on the comms networks?’ CJOPS asked the Chief of Staff.

‘Sir, yes,’ he responded before turning to the staff. ‘J6, do you have any more on this?’ he asked the lead communications adviser.

‘That is correct, sir. Both Australian and US secure satellite communications and the ASEAN military-maritime communications are being jammed within the affected area.’

Turning back to his briefing pack, CJOPS put the threat overlay back onto the holo-display. He turned to his Space Intelligence and Effects adviser. ‘Geoff, why is my gut telling me that this could go bad?’ CJOPS asked intensely.

Taking his glasses off and running a hand through his longer than regulation dark mop of hair, Geoff squinted at the overlay and then back at his boss. ‘Well sir, frankly we don’t know who owns this platform, but clearly pushing a satellite that far out is a deliberate act. This isn’t just some interference in Low Earth Orbit or a frequency management issue.’

‘And what can we interpret from that?’ CJOPS interrupted, leaning back in his chair.

‘If I were doing this, I would use this satellite’s proximity to our constellation to interfere with our forces’ communications and navigation systems. Clearly disruption of those could create incidents on land or sea, but I would also be using this opportunity to mask some action on Earth whilst there is enough confusion for deniability. The risk of not acting is that we have lost the initiative. However, the wrong action may just kick a war off.’

CJOPS turned to survey the room. ‘Does anyone disagree with that assessment?’

‘I think it's bigger than that,’ interjected Bryan, the fast-talking, intense Information Warfare and Cyber adviser. ‘Sir, I see this incident as not just a temporary disruption of our systems, but if they achieve the right stationary orbit within our constellations, they could hold our space services to ransom any time they want.’ Taking a breath, he continued. ‘Sir, if we don’t safely remove this, I think we’ll be forced to rebuild or even replace the critical components of the constellation. Heck, they may have even compromised our reserve systems, given we rely on less secured industry alliances for the new systems.[27] This could risk our entire Indo-Pacific secure comms and military navigation systems, and any number of essential civilian services.’

Momentarily pausing for effect, he continued. ‘Better yet, if they become stationary alongside our own birds, and we go after it with an ASAT, we risk messing up our own backyard, so to speak. I think the satellite's proximity, close to the ASEAN satellite, is an attempt to deny us response options, all the while distracting us from some other threat we don’t yet know about.’ Bryan blinked then looked over at Geoff, waiting to see if he would counter the suggestion.

CJOPS took a breath, as if doing so would provide insight into the two scenarios. Seeking to confirm his options, he turned to his Operations Officer ‘So, as of right now, and in two hours, what do we know will be on the board that can be hurt? OPS?’

‘Well, sir, Task Force Harley will still be in the South China Sea as part of their FONOPs. Our regional engagement deployments in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand will also be targetable. There are two RAAF Maritime patrol craft and their associated Wingman UAS currently over Indonesia airspace. Everything else is outside of the region or on home soil. CASA is reporting impact on air-traffic control north of Sydney, unsure of other civilian disruptions,’ the Operations Officer finished with a quick nod to the CoS.

‘Right. So not a good time to be at sea or in the air. Options?’ CJOPS asked grimly.

‘Well sir, we have few response options. Response one is to launch one of the various ASATs,[28]  including the US ones from Darwin, a RAAF F-35 with Air-Space-Missiles or one of the Air Warfare Destroyers could do it, but they’re only viable if this satellite orbits back closer to Earth.[29] At the current position, only the US ones have the range and will take 12 hours to get there and we don’t know where it will be by then if it manoeuvres. If it achieves geosynchronous orbit like Bryan mentioned, then an ASAT might just do the enemy’s work for them.’

‘What are the non-kinetic options?’ CJOPS asked without waiting.

‘Well, we have a number. We can use focused land-based jamming systems based in Queensland to target the platform until it leaves our GOZ. We could seek to open a communications channel to the platform through the IPSS to route cyber activities at the platform. Another option is to request launch of an E-ASAT from the US Navy to deliver a localised EMP[30] to the platform. The problem is that all ASAT capabilities come with significant collateral risk to any other platforms in the vicinity at the time the strike occurs. The option I would suggest, though, sir, is to use Defence’s Authority under the Australian Use of Space Legislation for ADRS. The network of lasers is effective out to that range and is a faster response than any ASAT.’

‘Legal, can I use any or all of these options?’ CJOPS turned to his Legal Officer, Claire, a military lawyer who had worked in JOC for the last seven years.

‘Sir, I would suggest that any of these options needs a conversation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, possibly even the Prime Minister’s Office. The last time we used ADRS to neutralise a satellite, it was a defunct SpaceX satellite and we had both the US’ and SpaceX’s permission. This time we don’t know who owns it, or for certain if it is the cause of the jamming,’ Claire responded without blinking.

‘Claire, good point. But can you confirm my authority to launch or strike with these options please?’ CJOPS responded calmly.

‘Sir, the US anti-satellite missiles have been delegated to your release under AUKUS within the Australian Orbital Zone. We have no agreements with IPSS to use them to tunnel through for cyber activities, so you would likely need to elevate that request to the Prime Minister. The land-based jamming is within your authority, and you may delegate that down to the Australian Space Operations Centre once authorised.[31] The ADRS can be authorised for technical operation under Defence control and only needs your operational approval,’ Claire summarised succinctly, if a little sharply.

‘Thank you, Claire.  OK Tom, what’s the diplomatic take on this?’ CJOPS nodded to Claire before looking at his Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade policy adviser.

‘Frankly, without attribution of ownership for the platform, we may make a bigger mess. We are within legislation and international policy guidelines though. Either way the PM will need to know ASAP,’ Tom responded with a degree of prevarication.

‘To be fair, Tom,’ the Operations Officer bounced back, ‘this is clearly an act of aggression; the PM and MINDEF will likely agree, given circumstances laid out in the 2037 space-based aggression agreement which they both signed.’

‘OK. Assume I either disable or destroy this satellite. Predictions of what happens next, anyone?’ CJOPS looked around the table at his staff.

Bryan cleared his throat. ‘Sir, assuming the satellite is disabled or destroyed, and there is no follow-on terrestrial action, we will need to run diagnostics on all affected satellites, and until that is complete they should not be relied upon. They will need to be potentially shut down to go through a software rebuild. Worse case, they will need to be deorbited and replaced if there are hardware issues. That will leave a significant hole in Indo-Pacific coverage for us and our allies that will take months to fix. I know we have emergency small-scale satellite systems ready to launch out of Woomera, and potentially use RAAF Wedgetails and Triton to restore our comms and provide some temporary redundancy in low Earth orbit. Over the longer term, Mahia will need to reschedule launches to cover replacements to the geo-synchronous constellations.’

‘Good points. CoS, start working up a team to look at solutions.’

’Wilco, sir. the CoS agreed, using his watch to send a priority task to his secure planning AI.

CJOPS turned back to the collected advisers. ‘OK team, so it is a tough road ahead regardless. Choice One: We disable this satellite, risk damaging friendly satellites but maybe maintain peace, and we are vulnerable in the next few months. Choice Two: We leave this satellite, but then we leave the door open for follow-on hostilities and we still have vulnerabilities. Is that about right?’ CJOPS summarised. The Communications Officer nodded. ‘Right, so does anyone want to stop me from disabling this satellite?’ CJOPS asked the room.

‘Sir,’ Claire spoke up, ‘Given we don’t know who owns this satellite or if any other satellites are affected ….’ she paused to look around the room, ‘there is no confirmation that it deliberately originated from the rogue satellite. We could be seen to be starting a war, rather than defending ourselves.’ Claire concluded, feeling she had made her point clearly.

‘Thank you, Claire,’ CJOPS responded respectfully.

Taking a sip of his coffee, CJOPS paused before continuing. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, in accordance with my authorities for operations in all domains, my decision is thus …” CJOPS continued.

To realise and prepare for the world of 2040 the Defence Space Strategy needs to:

  • Articulate the Critical Services and Infrastructure that need to be protected, resilient, and managed in Space.
  • Embrace a Whole-of-Government response to activities in Space that leverages the skills and expertise of industry, entrepreneurship, academia, legal and Defence.
  • Embrace AI as a management tool to support proactive control of the complex, congested, and contested Space domain.
  • Ensure CJOPS has suitable authorisations and Rules of Engagement to act in Space on shortened decision cycles, and to leverage the advantages of AI and Quantum computing.

End Note


[1]As of 2018, 52 companies were testing self-driving vehicles on California’s roads. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/16/7684

[2]On 3 August 2021, the Australian Government announced a grant to establish a National Space Mission Control Centre in Adelaide. Despite this, we elected to set our story in Parkes for two reasons. First, to highlight how future governments will need to invest in new tech job opportunities to assist farming communities and industries whose livelihoods are lost due to the effects of climate change; and, to demonstrate how changing electoral maps could result in Adelaide being displaced as the preferred Defence Hub for future government investment. See: http://www.business.gov.au/Grants-and-Programs/Space-Infrastructure-Fund-Mission-Control-Centre , https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/labor-places-wa-at-the-centre-of-its-proposed-defence-policy/news-story/

[3]The Australian Government’s 2020 Space National Manufacturing Priority Road Map sets out a plan for both industry and government, as well as venture capitalists and researchers, to collaborate to drive new ideas, innovation and productivity to strengthen Australia’s space manufacturing capability. It is expected all stakeholders will collocate in a ‘Space Hub’ to share ideas and propel further growth in the industry. http://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/space-national-manufacturing-priority-road-map/road-map-in-context

[4]The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2020 State of the Climate Report predicts continuing large-scale changes to Australia’s climate, including lower rainfall in southern Australia, higher temperatures and more severe droughts and floods. See http://bom.gov.au/state-of-the-climate/ and http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2021-07-29/abares-climate-change-costs-30k-per-farm-/100331680ws

[5]Parkes historic role in the Apollo 11 mission is detailed at: http://www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au/news_events/apollo11/

[6]For introductory information on the utility and function of satellites, and geosynchronous orbit see: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/OrbitsCatalog/page2.php, www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7oLR81Oip8 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=ror4P1UAv_g

[7]Biometric access control is already standard at some Defence facilities and will increase across the wider community in the future. www.johnsoncontrols.com/security/access-control/biometrics-access-control

[8]Holo-displays are available now, but with reduced costs through mass production it’s possible they may become commonplace in command centres. www.realfiction.com/holographic-displays

[9]In May 2021, the Australian Defence Force announced the creation of a Space Division by 2022, reflecting the importance of the Space domain and the requirement for a joint force. The 2020 Australian Defence Strategic Update noted Defence would need to work closely with industry and other government agencies to advance its space capabilities, including through the Australian Space Agency. It’s foreseeable Australia’s future facilities may be staffed by a joint civilian, military and industry footprint which may require revision of current C2 arrangements. See: http://www1.defence.gov.au/about/publications/2020-defence-strategic-update p 39 and http://news.defence.gov.au/media/media-releases/defence-announces-space-division.

[10]There are already calls for Australia and New Zealand to partner in space launch capabilities to leverage technology and cost-sharing possibilities. Whilst sovereign capabilities are the flavour of the day, hard decisions need to be made about what is financially feasible for Australia to achieve going forward. www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-and-new-zealand-should-coordinate-space-launch-capabilities/

[11]Federal and State Governments have committed financial resources to establishing small launch facilities in Australia and partnering with industry to make it profitable. There is conjecture that Australia should subsequently seek to establish heavy launch facilities. Concerns around the costs of launch fees may deter industry partners from utilising these facilities, and they may go overseas for cheaper launch options. www.aspistrategist.org.au/northern-launch-site-could-transform-australias-role-in-space/ www.innovationaus.com/australias-biggest-rocket-launch-in-40-years-set-for-friday/

[12]As use of the Earth’s orbits accelerates, with deployment of mega-constellations for satellite broadband, a new and pressing challenge to the long-term sustainability of space operations will be the exponential growth of space debris. The European Space Agency recognises active removal of space debris as a strategic goal and the 2020 G2 Space Economy Meeting also acknowledged the threat. Australian researchers are part of global efforts to develop lasers to declutter debris and software to manage traffic in space. See: ‘SpaceX's Starlink: Could a flood of satellites create a space-junk nightmare?’ Al Jazeera Australia, April 2021 at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RSwh37DBoU, www.space.com/24895-space-junk-wild-clean-up-concepts, http://www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Space_Debris/Active_debris_removal, and https://www.oecd.org/innovation/inno/measuring-economic-impact-space-sector.pdf

[13]The 2021 United States Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence community notes that China and Russia have already developed ASAT capabilities with the intent to destroy satellites. www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/ATA-2021-Unclassified-Report.pdf pp 8-11

[14]The Kessler Syndrome is a scenario in which the density of objects in Low Earth Orbit is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions. One implication is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space activities and the use of satellites in specific orbital ranges impractical for many generations. This is why states are reluctant to militarise space. wwww.spacelegalissues.com/space-law-the-kessler-syndrome/

[15]Space infrastructure was only recognised as critical infrastructure in Australia in 2021 but the money allocated to that infrastructure was only $19.5m AUD, which is insufficient and disproportionate to the damage which could occur. See: www.industry.gov.au/funding-and-incentives/supporting-space-infrastructure-growth and / www.youngausint.org.au/post/critical-infrastructure-and-critical-considerations-securing-australia-s-space-capabilities.

[16]Orbital Boxes are licensed segments within the Australian Geosynchronous Orbit Zone with assured position and management services leased to commercial and Government organisations. Geosynchronous Earth Orbit is already prime real estate and there are few or no slots left over North America, Europe, and Eastern Asia. National regulators may increase regulations in this space. For example, the United States Federal Communications Commission regulates the electromagnetic spectrum, but requires satellite operators to satisfy debris management requirements to obtain a satellite licence. The electromagnetic spectrum is also congested, which limits Earth to space communication using radio wave technology. https://aerospace.org/sites/default/files/2018-05/OrbitalSlots_0.pdf

[17]Virgin Galactic, Blue Horizon and Space X all launched civilian passengers into space within months of each other in 2021, marking a series of firsts for space tourism. www.thesun.co.uk/news/16186609/spacex-civilian-crew-splashes-atlantic-ocean-space-tourism/

[18]In 2017 Australia and the US signed a new treaty agreement covering space vehicle tracking and communications facilities. The 2020 Australian Defence Strategic Update notes continued cooperation in this domain and it is likely the newly minted AUKUS partnership will see future collaboration between the UK, US and Australia on emerging space technology. http://usa.embassy.gov.au/news/australia-us-space-cooperation, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-and-the-us-in-space-ready-for-lift-off/and www.pm.gov.au/media/joint-leaders-statement-aukus.

[19]For information on satellite jamming see http:/onth/radar.csis.org/issue-briefs/satellite-jamming/

[20]Researchers are developing smart contact lenses which could replace society’s reliance on smartphones. http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/future-tech/what-will-replace-smartphone.htm

[21]Australia’s refocus on the Indo-Pacific region as part of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update could lead to closer engagement with regional partners in the space domain. www.aspistrategist.org.au/space-2-0-in-the-indo-pacific/

[22]An Australian National University National Security College Policy Options Paper suggests cultivating a space policy network in Southeast Asia and with key Pacific partners – integrating security, economic and development aspects and aligned with the Indo-Pacific Step-Up. http://www.nsc.crawford.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/publication/nsc_crawford_anu_edu_au/2021-05/nsc_policy_options_paper_space_power_web.pdf

[23]Researchers are developing smart contact lenses which could respond to signals from the eye, allowing the wearer to zoom in on detail simply by blinking. www.independent.co.uk/news/science/robotic-contact-lens-zoom-blinking-signals-a9024176.html

[24]Researchers are developing haptic phones which turn speech into physical sensations. This could be used in the manner highlighted in our story to help immediately mentally prepare the listener for receiving crisis directions. www.goodnet.org/articles/reach-out-touch-someone-haptic-phone

[25]India’s space program has developed significantly over the last few decades and Australia should explore opportunities to develop closer space ties bilaterally or through a future QUAD mechanism. www.ifri.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/rajeswari_pillai_rajagopalan_indias_space_program_2019.pdf, www.nsc.crawford.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/publication/nsc_crawford_anu_edu_au/2021-05/nsc_policy_options_paper_space_power_web.pdf.

[26]The Joint Effects Targeting process is defined in ADF doctrine. https://www.defence.gov.au/foi/docs/disclosures/021_1112_Document_ADDP_3_14_Targeting.pdf

[27]As more devices become interconnected, the risk of belligerents finding ‘back doors’ into Australia’s critical infrastructure and systems increases. This has applicability to considerations for protecting space infrastructure at every stage of development. www.aspi.org.au/report/protecting-critical-national-infrastructure-era-it-and-ot-convergence

[28]Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) are designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic or tactical purposes, but have the disadvantage of creating excessive debris. Some options on how to do so are available at: https://warontherocks.com/2020/07/america-can-protect-its-satellites-without-kinetic-space-weapons/

[29]JSFs may soon be able to launch hypersonic missiles into space. http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/lookout-f-35-could-soon-carry-hypersonic-missiles-190233

[30]During the 1950s and 1960s, nuclear detonations in space created Electromagnetic Pulses (EMP) with a devastatingly wide area of effect. It is now possible to generate a controlled and localised EMP with non-nuclear technologies. https://www.spacelegalissues.com/space-law-starfish-prime-or-the-legality-of-high-altitude-nuclear-explosions/ , https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Chronicles/apjemp.pdf

[31]Whilst it is understood CJOPS probably has extant authorities to act in any domain if a belligerent were threatening national security, the ramifications of doing so in the space domain would be global. Often such sensitive decisions would be authorised by the Prime Minister, even if CJOPS held the authority under an established operation. However, by 2040 the rapid pace of space technology and its ability to wreak mass destruction may preclude the usual high-level discussions before such sensitive actions. Defence should ensure its C2 structures and authorities for action are crystal clear and that the Government is aware the window for consultation before action in a crisis is rapidly shrinking. The conversations need to occur now, before the crisis point.