The US Air Force has commissioned a new satellite ground station in Australia for the Defence Support Program (DSP) early warning satellite network,.

Its Nurrungar station, in the Woomera Prohibited Area, closed on 12 October. The new station, a fully automated relay facility, is side by side with the US signals intelligence base at Pine Gap, west of Alice Springs in Central Australia.

The transition between facilities has been "seamless", Australian defence minister John Moore says. The new Pine Gap relay facility was fully operational before the closing of Nurrungar.

The new ground station is designed to handle the existing DSP system, which uses infrared and electro-optic sensors to warn of the launch of ballistic missiles, and the Space Based Infra-Red Surveillance system, which is under development.

Under an agreement negotiated last year, Australian personnel formerly stationed at Nurrungar are to be transferred to the USA to work at the main DSP control facility at Buckley AFB in Colorado.

The US Government negotiated the establishment of the new ground relay station with Australia as part of defence talks held in July 1996. Australia also agreed to a 10-year extension of the Pine Gap lease through to 2008.

The Nurrungar facility played a key role in the 1991 Gulf War as the main control station for DSP satellites positioned over the Middle East to provide early warning of Iraqi ballistic missile strikes.

Source: Flight International