Space is a dangerous place. Surrounding Earth is a cloud of metal debris, old junk satellites, and rocket parts that could, at any moment, wipe out the internet connection you're using to read this.
Part of the reason this page loaded is a global network of radars tracking every satellite, and every piece of debris, feeding information to satellites which they use to avoid those collisions.
On Tuesday, Collie in south west Western Australia, became part of that network.
Scientists, engineers, defence personnel and astronomers from around the world descended on a secret location up the hill to officially commission the Leolabs Western Australian Space Radar.
The radar will track objects up to 2500km out into space, an area considered Low Earth Orbit. These can be anything from the massive International Space Station, to a 10cm piece of debris, all moving at around 27,000km/h.
"This radar marks a massive step forward in the coverage of the southern hemisphere," Leolabs CEO Dr Dan Ceperley said.
"It turns out that before we built radars in the southern hemisphere there was very little coverage or tracking for satellites as they crossed, which is kind of crazy, because satellites in LEO spend half their time over the southern hemisphere."
Currently, Leolabs tracks 20,000 individual objects, most of which are 10cm or more in diameter, with their six radar sites around the world.
"Another collision is not really a matter of if, but when. There will be more bad days in space," Dr Ceperley said.
The site consists of four structures which make up two phased array radars. Working in pairs, one structure is responsible for sending and receiving the signal, and the other is purely for receiving, boosting the sensitivity of each radar to where it can detect objects as small as 2cm in diameter.
Having two radars on the one site means they can communicate quickly with each other, passing off objects between them so Leolabs can understand not only where an object is, but where it's going.
Leolabs will operate the radar remotely. Either from the eastern states, or their base in California. It means the multi million dollar array will largely be in the care of local contractors, and in emergencies, Australian managing director Terry van Haren.
"They do their day shift [in the USA], and we do our day shift. They can run all the radars from one team, globally," he said.
"It's such a virtual system. I could operate the radars from my computer, over a VPN in a café in town."
The data they gather services 4000 out of the approximately 5000 commercial satellites in LEO, as well as some government owned satellites from the Australian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and NASA.
Elon Musk's SpaceX is LeoLabs' biggest customer. It uses the data to adjust the orbit of the Starlink internet satellites, based on probabilities of impact, to dodge potential disaster.
"With Starlink, that data goes directly to the satellite. It flies itself and makes its own decisions based on our data," Mr van Haren said.
Another collision is not really a matter of if, but when. There will be more bad days in space.- Dr Dan Ceperley
The radar project was a major windfall for local businesses on terra firma too. Leolabs started building in 2021, without ever having seen the site due to government restrictions.
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South west contractors carried out studies to test the suitability of the site, right down to whether or not the high voltage power lines in the area would interfere with the signal.
"It typically takes us about 9 months to build a radar, from ground breaking to operation. This site was a success in that it only took us 7 and a half months," Leolabs Radar Deployment Director Craig Trumbull said.
At the same time the pad was being poured in Collie, a similar structure was going up in Portugal. Another is underway in Argentina. Leolabs' coverage of the skies is expanding alongside a rapidly growing space industry in Australia, and around the world.
"In 2019, there were only 800 satellites operating in low earth orbit. Now in 2023, that number is set to pass 10,000. In less than five years, the number of satellites has grown tenfold. It's rare that you see any industry going through a change that fast," Dr Ceperley said.
"There's an increasing number of astronauts and tourists going to space. I hope one day I can visit, and see some of you there, and maybe we'll sleep a little sounder knowing this radar is here to protect us."