independent.ie– A new space base will be built in Britain to monitor the “irresponsible and reckless” threats made to satellites by Russia and China, the head of the Royal Air Force has said.
The Deep-space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) will be located either in southern England or Scotland.
The site will work with identical facilities in Texas and Australia to cover the entire world up to 36,000km above the Earth, watching for incoming nuclear missiles or space debris on a collision course with satellites. The system will also be used to monitor aggressive behaviour that threatens space-based assets.
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston warned of “irresponsible and reckless testing by Russia and China” of anti-satellite weapons, adding it is a national priority to understand what’s going on in space.
Speaking in Los Angeles having visited the US Space and Missile Systems Centre there, Mr Wigston said “we don’t have the full picture” of what’s happening in space.
“The opportunity with DARC is to collaborate with the US and Australia,” he said. “There’s no point us replicating what the US is doing. The trick is to find areas where our technology and systems add capabilities other allies don’t have.”
Each DARC radar field will be made up of about 16 separate transmit and receive antennas. They will be able to spot objects as small as a football. Lt Col Jack Walker of the US Space Force’s Special Programmes Directorate said “if anything poses a threat, we want to track it”.
The British field will have about six transmitters and 10 receiving dishes, each 15 metres in diameter. The whole site will be around 1km sq.
The DARC system will complement the existing facility at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, built in 1963, which can see up to 2,000km above the planet. The first DARC site will be built by 2025 with all three being completed within three years.
There are 30,000 objects orbiting Earth big enough to cause catastrophic damage to satellites. Ground-based radars are currently the best way to detect and track them.
Britain’s geographic location in the northern hemisphere and close to Russia – the West’s main ballistic missile threat – mean it is best suited to hosting such facilities.
Officials are increasingly concerned about so-called “orbital threats” – satellites that can manoeuvre near to other spacecraft and inflict damage.
Both China and Russia are developing and deploying satellite inspection and repair capabilities that could easily be used to tamper with foreign satellites. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)