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Canberra's Falcon telescope keeping a sharp eye on the sky

Date

Conor Hickey

Dr Francis Chun of the United States Airforce Academy Center of Space and Situation Awareness Research.

Dr Francis Chun of the United States Airforce Academy Center of Space and Situation Awareness Research. Photo: Jay Cronan

There's an estimated 22,000 objects orbiting the Earth, and Canberra will play a small but important role in keeping an eye on them.

A new telescope site on defence ground across from Duntroon was formally opened on Thursday as part of a global Falcon Telescope Network.

The 50-centimetre telescope was provided to the University of NSW by the US Air Force Academy and is one of four in the world in operation. 

It will ultimately form part of a 12-telescope network tasked with tracking the position of satellites and the huge amount of debris that could damage or destroy them.

The USAFA's Dr Francis Chun said when the remaining eight Italian-made telescopes were installed, the network would be able to track objects in space 24 hours a day, even with bad weather at some sites.

"It allows you to make simultaneous observations, and allows you to track objects from one telescope to another as night progresses," Dr Chun said.

Two telescopes are located in the US, with another in Chile. Of the remaining eight planned, one would be in Europe, one in South Africa, one in Western Australia and the remainder in the US, including Hawaii. 

UNSW senior lecturer Dr Andrew Lambert said knowledge of what was in space was crucial, particularly when launching satellites.

"There's satellites up there, there's man-made debris from rocket bodies and they form a shell of garbage," Dr Lambert said.

"We need to know where they are, so if we put something else up there we don't collide with it. We need to see whether things crash into each other.

"When things hit, they can be travelling up to 30,000 km/h, and two vehicles hitting each other at those speeds could create absolute mayhem in the sky.''

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