20 Jun 2023
Project News

Space-Based Spectrum Monitoring capabilities in Australia’s future

20 Jun 2023

SmartSat project P1.24 Spectrum Monitoring: Identifying Australia’s Needs and Opportunities has successfully identified areas of growth in Space-Based Spectrum Monitoring (SBSM), providing advice on the technology capabilities that could be developed within Australia.

The project, led by Professor Sam Drake from Flinders University and supported by Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), also sought to identify potential users, defining the user requirements and a developing plan to meet those requirements. Finally, the project also set out to assess the market potential, as well as the expected social and economic benefit to Australia of developing a sovereign Australian SBSM system.

Access to radio spectrum is crucial for many activities and organisations, and increasing congestion gives rise to concerns for interference by unauthorised or malicious activities. Electromagnetic spectrum use in Australia is administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) who licenses spectrum users and supports government in developing strategic policy for spectrum management. ACMA currently lacks the data needed to support spectrum sharing based on time. If this were available, it could unlock considerably greater spectrum resource by allowing the sharing of spectrum resource based on knowledge of the patterns of use of individual licensees. A pervasive spectrum monitoring capability, such as would be achieved by a space-based spectrum monitoring (SM) constellation would have immediate value in informing ACMA’s spectrum planning process, which is currently conducted by paper studies and according to an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) cycle. It could also be used to detect unlicensed emitters and confirm that legitimate users are operating according to their licensing agreements.

In Defence parlance, SM is a surveillance task. This means the collection of data from a particular domain to determine patterns of activity. Like the ACMA civil use case, Defence would also benefit from persistent sensing of the entire spectrum over a broad region with high spatial and temporal resolution. There are also important use cases of space-based spectrum monitoring for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing as well Search and Rescue.

This study examined these and other user requirements and then went on to develop mission requirements as well as an initial concept for a new satellite constellation that would meet Australian needs. The constellation design took into account the trade-offs between the number and complexity of satellites, considering the relative satellite and deployment costs and the potential economic returns for different levels of coverage. The design study included consideration of the antenna system, digital receivers and back-end processing algorithms. Data processing is a key element of an advanced SBSM capability and offers substantial opportunities for Australian research capabilities. Due to the vast quantity of data collected, much of the data processing must occur onboard the satellite, thereby reducing the need for high-speed data transfer and facilitating access to low latency information which is important for some applications.

The project also included an Australian capability assessment to map out the likely suppliers who could support the development of such a constellation, including a survey of relevant technologies that either already exist or can be developed in Australia. Finally, a roadmap was proposed for the development and deployment of an SBSM capability on a timeframe to ensure the system is relevant and represents a world leading capability in the field of space-based Earth Observation.

This project comprehensively examined the opportunities for an Australian satellite constellation for spectrum monitoring and forms an ideal starting point for further developments in this promising application area.