News 40 years of Landsat in Australia
Last updated:13 September 2023
The Alice Springs Satellite Ground Station
Geoscience Australia’s Alice Springs satellite ground station hosts two 9 metre antennas, a 2.4-metre antenna, and associated infrastructure. The satellite ground station is one of three forming a global Landsat satellite ground station network and has been in operation since 1979. These antennas enable Geoscience Australia to collect data from a number of Earth monitoring satellites, including Landsat 7 and 8, which provide information to detect changes in land use over time and other useful environmental data. This data is used by government, industry, education and research, contributing billions of dollars to the Australian economy.
The geographic location of this satellite ground station is of strategic importance as it provides satellite reception coverage over the entire Australian continent therefore reducing the need and cost for other installations to provide the same capability in other locations. This ground station allows the US Geological Survey (USGS) Mission Operation Centre located at NASA to send command and control signals to current and future Landsat satellites via the facility at Alice Springs, as well as satellite spacecraft telemetry information and 'state of health'.
2019 marks the 40th anniversary of Australia’s participation in the USGS Landsat program. In recognition of this Geoscience Australia commissioned a painting on the ViaSat antenna at the Alice Springs satellite ground station, featuring Lakota Sioux-inspired artwork based on an Owinja (Star Quilt), gifted to Geoscience Australia by the United States Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science Centre. The artist behind the Owinja is Rosaline Louise Oren. She was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and today is a registered member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The new artwork celebrates the longstanding collaborative relationship between Geoscience Australia and the USGS. The other 9 metre antenna at the site, the Datron antenna, already features artwork based on an Aboriginal painting, Caterpillar Tracks by Roseanne Kemarre Ellis, commissioned in 2016 to recognise the role of the Arrernte people as custodians of the land where the Alice Springs antennas are located.
Uses of Satellite Data
The Alice Springs antenna collects satellite imagery of the Earth, known as Earth observations from space (EOS) data, which has wide ranging benefits for the Australian community and globally.
The Alice Springs facility was upgraded in 2016, and is an important element of Geoscience Australia's Earth observation program, which has collaborative agreements with a number of international satellite operators.
EOS data is used to respond to natural disasters such as bushfires, cyclones and floods, monitor land use, develop agriculture, discover new mineral and energy resources and ensure our water security.
This satellite data is available to governments and researchers around the world, enabling other countries to see similar benefits.
By collaborating in the USGS’s Landsat Program, Geoscience Australia has secured Australia's access to more than 40 years of EOS data, the longest continuous space-based record of Earth in existence.
As new satellites and technologies emerge, the Alice Springs Ground Station will continue to provide the capability for Australia to grow its invaluable archive of satellite imagery, and applications for its use to continue to grow.
USGS and NASA
As a country that does not have its own Earth observation satellites, Australia relies heavily on international collaborations to secure access to essential satellite data feeds. Geoscience Australia has worked with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the field of space science since the 1970s. The Alice Springs facility is a testament to this enduring partnership - providing Australia access to critical satellite data and ensuring that Geoscience Australia can continue to make important contributions to this rapidly evolving field. Geoscience Australia recently signed an agreement with the USGS to use the Alice Springs antenna to collect raw data from the US satellites. The collected data is processed into images using USGS-provided software and further value-added by Geoscience Australia before being made available to users via free and open access. Through this partnership, Australia gains access to an imagery collection documenting 40 years of changes to our continent and landscape, which continues to provide insights into environmental change and improvements in the management of our natural resources.
The Australian National Ground Segment Technical Team (ANGSTT) coordinates a national network of Earth Observation Satellite (EOS) ground stations and provides a collaboration forum to share knowledge amongst the Australian public sector infrastructure operators. The collaborators include Geoscience Australia, BoM, CSIRO, Landgate (WA) and Australian Space Agency.
Centre for Appropriate Technology
The antenna resides on land owned by the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT). CfAT is a not-for-profit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander company that works with communities, organisations, governments and the private sector across central and northern Australia.
Geoscience Australia subcontracted the antenna's upgrade and facility management to CfAT, aligning with the Australian Government's Northern Australia focus. Geoscience Australia partnered with CfAT for this project utilising Commonwealth Procurement rules for Indigenous companies, in support of the Government's targets for working with Indigenous businesses.