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US, Australia agree plans on space surveillance

MELBOURNE (AFP): Australia and the United States plan to expand efforts to track objects in space over the southern hemisphere as part a cooperation agreement on intelligence and surveillance, officials said Monday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirmed the "space situational awareness" partnership deal in a newspaper commentary, coinciding with an Australia-US summit in Melbourne.

The US and Australian governments provided few details about the agreement, which was due to be signed at Monday’s meeting.

Officials earlier said the partnership would allow the two countries to improve the monitoring of objects in space over the southern hemisphere, including satellites, space debris and potential ballistic missiles launched from North Korea.

The deal could allow for an expanded American role at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia, which the US military already uses, US officials said.

While US surveillance networks are able to monitor space over the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere is not as well covered and Australia's geographic location offers an ideal base for tracking the increasing number of satellites orbiting the planet, officials said.

US defence officials rejected reports that the United States planned to build a new base for space surveillance in Western Australia, saying the agreement called for joint efforts with Australia and the use of existing sites.

The United States and its allies have accused China of trying to "militarise" space and the Pentagon says Beijing has invested heavily in space technology with military applications.

China in 2007 launched a ballistic missile to knock out one of its old weather satellites -- an incident that sparked sharp criticism from Washington and around the world.

The growing amount of space debris and satellite traffic has also prompted calls for better surveillance and more international cooperation to avoid a potential disaster.


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