China to lose access to Australia tracking station

September 22, 2020  - By

China will lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, a decision that could affect BeiDou constellation service in the Pacific region, according to a Reuters report.

A contract between the Swedish Space Corp. (SSC) and China has given Beijing access to a station antenna since 2011, but the SSC satellite station is primarily used by the United States and its agencies.

The Swedish state-owned company told Reuters it wouldn’t enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after its current contract expires, but did not disclose the exact date.

Ground stations are a vital part of space programs given they create a telecommunications link with spacecraft. While stations have different capabilities, they can be equipped to coordinate satellites for civil-military GNSS such as Beidou, Russia’s GLONASS, the European Union’s Galileo system, and U.S.-owned GPS.

China’s space program has been increasing its access to overseas ground stations in recent years in line with the expansion of its space exploration and navigational programs.

“Generally speaking, anywhere you put a GNSS monitoring ground station will improve the accuracy of positioning for that region,” said Joon Wayn Cheong, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales’ School of Electrical Engineering.

China wants to remove its dependence on GPS as part of broader plans to expand its global influence, says Christopher Newman, professor of Space Law and Policy at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England. “GPS could be made unavailable to them in a military conflict. An independent secure system is crucial for the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army [China’s military] with respect to targeting, weapons, navigation,” he told Reuters.

Beijing last year reestablished diplomatic ties with the small Pacific island nation of Kiribati, where it has a mothballed ground station.

Feature image: Pgiam/E+/Getty Images

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.