A new optical ground station launched by The Australian National University (ANU) will help NASA, the Australian Space Agency and other major space agencies safely reach Mars.

The ANU Quantum Optical Ground Station, based at the University’s Mt Stromlo Observatory, is a telescope that will support high-speed advanced communications with satellites from low-Earth orbit to the Moon and other deep space laser communication. 

It will also drive future research on advanced communications technologies, providing satellite networks with quantum security and global connectivity.

The telescope will support advanced communications with satellites. Photo: ANU

With support from the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars initiative, the station is being upgraded with the latest optical technology that will enable communication between the station and future crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

Associate Professor Francis Bennet from ANU said the ground station was the “pre-eminent technology of its kind in Australia”.

“Using lasers, the ground station will allow us to communicate with satellites and crews hurtling through space, supporting major crewed space missions and future space exploration,” Associate Professor Bennet said.

“We have built systems that are cutting edge in their capability; upgrading them to be compatible with NASA missions that will help permanent operations on the Moon and improve astronauts’ ability to connect back with Earth and allow high-definition video from the Moon and Mars.” 

The station received major funding from the ACT Government’s Priority Investment Program.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the ground station located in Canberra is a key national asset that positions Australia and the Indo-Pacific region to collaborate and compete on the global stage.

Associate Professor Francis Bennet. Photo: ANU

“Canberra has the capabilities to support space industry success and to take advantage of the enormous investment being made globally in space, through our growing knowledge economy,” said the Chief Minister.

“The ANU Quantum Optical Ground Station is another of the ACT’s strategic space sector co-investments that will enable competitive advantage for Australia’s space industry, attract talent from researchers, academics and industry to the ACT not only to help our economy continue to diversify but to equip industry with vital infrastructure to innovate and grow.

“The ACT Government is proud to have supported this ambitious project through our Priority Investment Program.” 

Director of the ANU Institute for Space, Professor Anna Moore, said the optical ground station was a “stellar” example of how ANU and Australian research was making major contributions to the future of space technology and exploration.

“It’s really exciting to see this new technology that will play a pivotal role in major future space missions come online after five years in the making,” Professor Moore said.

“With this new infrastructure, we will be able to continue Australia’s distinguished support of NASA’s deep space exploration in an entirely new way, beaming back high-fidelity video of astronauts rather than grainy images.

“We will also be able to support our local and global space sector’s ambitions more broadly in high-speed secure communication – a critical capability that affects our daily lives. We look forward to working with our project partners on this nation-leading technology for many years to come.”  

The ANU Quantum Optical Ground Station is supported by funding from the ACT Government, with additional support from the Australian Space Agency, CSIRO, TESAT and the ANU Institute for Space.

Top image: The ANU Quantum Optical Ground Station, based at the University’s Mt Stromlo Observatory. Photo: Jack Fox/ANU

Contact the media team

James Giggacher

Associate Director, Media and Communications

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