A second spy satellite built by Australia and the United States is scheduled for liftoff on Tuesday from a launch site in New Zealand.
The first of the two satellites, which will be used to collect intelligence for the allied nations, launched two weeks ago.
The Australian Department of Defence did not announce the successful launch of the first satellite or the launch date of the second.
US spy agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, has been celebrating the “Antipodean Adventure”, which features a crocodile, a rocket and an eagle on its logo.
Some in the space industry are bewildered by the lack of information and fanfare on the Australian side.
Malcolm Davis, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s senior analyst and resident space expert, said there is a “very different culture” in the US military, which actively promotes its work, and the Australian military, which is “closed off”.
“It’s not just these particular satellites, it’s an attitude within Defence that they’re very closed off,” he said.
“The Americans are very forward. You only need to look at how they support movies like Top Gun: Maverick. It’s a very different culture, and it’s a frustrating one down here.”
LAUNCH UPDATE: They say good things come to those who wait and we have to agree. 🚀
Software updates are complete and we’re now targeting no earlier than 1 a.m. EDT / 5 a.m. UTC, August 2 for our #NROL199 mission launch on a @RocketLab Electron rocket from New Zealand. https://t.co/nH7o5BfLAD
— NRO (@NatReconOfc) July 28, 2022
The first satellite, NROL-162, features a frill-necked lizard patch. “The frilled-neck lizard is a reptile primarily located in northern Australia and much like the lizard, it represents the small, agile nature of the payload to be launched,” the NRO said.
Its logo says sapiens qui prospicit: “Wise is the person who looks ahead”.
The second, NROL-199, has a dingo: “It represents a small to medium-sized canine built for speed, agility, and stamina.” Its logo says ad astra per aspera: “Through hardships to the stars.”
New Zealand’s Rocket Lab is providing the rockets to deliver the classified payloads into orbit from the launch site on the Māhia Peninsula.
The NRO’s mission is to “produce intelligence products” for policymakers and “warfighters” as well as civilian use.
Orbital Launch no.92 of 2022 🇳🇿🇺🇸🚀#6 , 🇺🇸🛰️#RocketLab prepares to launch #NROL199 classified mission for @NatReconOfc under Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket(RASR).
This is the 29th mission for #Electron Rocket, dubbed "Antipodean Adventure". pic.twitter.com/Mu39o6p3mt
— Karthik Naren (@nkknspace) July 31, 2022
A Defence spokesperson said the department partnered with the NRO for “two space missions as part of a broad range of cooperative satellite activities”.
As defence minister, Peter Dutton announced Australia’s intention to work with the NRO to build a “more capable, integrated, and resilient space architecture designed to provide global coverage in support of a wide range of intelligence mission requirements”.
Earlier this year he announced a separate plan to develop a surveillance satellite with Queensland company Gilmour Space Technologies, due to launch next year.
The NRO projects are in the lead-up to Defence Project 799. The federal government has pledged $500m to DEF-799, to “improve Australia’s space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to support Australian Defence Force operations around the world and at home”.
“The next goal is to build our own satellites,” Davis said. “So these are important steps … these are like interim tests that we’ve codeveloped with the Americans.”
The Defence spokesperson said details about the satellite payloads and missions were “protected”.
“Defence will continue to enhance Australia’s ability to generate military effects utilising the space domain,” they said.
“This will be achieved through efforts that include developing capabilities resilient in denied environments and assuring access to space.”
The NROL-199 launch was initially scheduled for 22 July but was delayed due to software issues.