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ARN took a look inside Optus' Belrose facility in Sydney to learn about the rich history and daily operations behind the company's largest Satellite Earth Station in Australia.
Optus’ origin can be traced back to its Sydney Satellite Earth Station located in Belrose. The company began life as Aussat, a Government-owned company which formed in the early 80s.
The facility was, and still is, focused on broadcast services but also deals with communication services.
On 11 July 1985, Aussat opened the Sydney Earth Station and the very next month it launched its first satellite, the Aussat A1, to supply communications services for consumer and military purposes as well as television services to remote regions.
The company was eventually privatised through its sale to Optus.
Optus, along with IPStar, recently secured a lucrative deal with NBN Co to provide interim satellite broadband services to remote areas of Australia. NBN Co will take over this responsibility once it launches its own satellites.
To date, Optus has launched nine satellites although one did explode shortly after launching from China. That was the Optus B2, launched in 1992. Bits of the debris fell back down to Earth and fatalities were involved according to one of the telco’s senior satellite operators.
Belrose controls the satellite fleet of B3, C1, D1 and D2.
D3, which operates under a different frequency band, is managed through the Canberra facility.
Paul Sheridan (pictured) heads up the Optus Satellite business and was the tour guide for the day at the Belrose facility.
Sitting on a fibre link, the Belrose site area covers 27,900 square metres with one main building and one equipment building.
According to the telco, it is already at full capacity.
The fibre link connects all the Optus Earth Stations across the country as a means of redundancy should one facility fail.
There are a number of launch sites around the world and they are usually situated closer to the equator for practicality reasons.
The model shown here is one of the newer rockets able to carry two satellites into space at the same time. Previously, rockets were only able to carry one.
Optus is gearing up to launch its 10th satellite, the Optus 10, in 2013.
The A-series satellites were dubbed Spinners for their cylindrical shape. Fleets after the A-series subsequently dropped this design for a more economical shape which was more efficient.
Optus A-series satellites had a 15-year lifespan, which was extended before they were eventually de-orbited.
Picture shows a 1/3 scale model of an A-series satellite.
A model of an Optus B-series satellite.
B1 was sent to space in 1992 while B3 went up in 1994. They have a 15-year and 14-year lifespan, respectively.
Optus B2 tragically exploded at the time of launch in 1992. The satellite was launched in China and the debris landed back onto Earth. Fatalities were involved in that incident.
The B-series satellites provided the world’s first satellite-based land mobile communication services, according to Optus.
The Optus C-series was, at launch in 2003, the largest hybrid commercial and military satellite operating in the Ku, FSS, UHF, X and Ka bands in the world.
The D-series is Optus’ latest fleet of satellites. D2 is the only satellite in the entire satellite fleet to operate on the broadcasting satellite service (BSS) spectrum.
Over 80 satellite operators around the world have leveraged the Belrose Earth Station’s expertise to support their satellite launches during the transitional orbit phase to its geostationary orbit phase.
Due to Optus Satellite’s dealings with the Department of Defence, ARN was unable to take pictures in the satellite control centre.
The room is decked out in electronic equipment, some older than others since satellites are progressively launched and older satellites require older systems to run them.
Two satellite operators man the control centre at all times each pair working 12-hour shifts from 7am-7pm and vica versa. They are the only people authorise to control the satellites and engineers would submit requests for them to execute. They also look after the general well-being of the satellites and communicate with them.
While the satellites are geo-stationary – that is, they stay at a fixed position relative to Earth - they can often shift out of its designated position, or orbital slot, due to the shape and tilt of the planet. Through the control centre, satellite operators can gently nudge them back into place.
The Broadcast Operation Centre was also off-limits when it came to photographs to protect Optus’ clients.
The room looks like a TV master control room, littered with screens showing broadcast from different Optus Satellite clients. This is to ensure everything is working properly.
As the Federal Government switches off analogue TV services across the country, digital services are introduced as a replacement. But digital transmitters are unable to cover the same distance as analogue transmitters so a group of people in remote and rural Australia will have to rely on satellite.
“This is done through viewer access satellite television (VAST) which will receive the same signal as you would through a digital transmitter,” Sheridan said.
Trevor Clay (pictured) is one of the staff working in the broadcast operation centre. He was one of the original staff working at Belrose since its first opened so has been working at the facility for over 25 years.
Beyond these doors, Optus houses its in-house equipment and datacentre.
The equipment here services a range of customers from Foxtel - a long-term client of Optus - to the ABC.
Defence phones services are, apparently, also housed here.
The panels on the top left and right hand corner leads data out of the datacentre and out to the satellite dishes, ready for transmission.
A close up of the panels that lead data out of the datacentre and out to the satellite dishes, ready for transmission.
One of Optus' giant satellite dishes at Belrose.
All the satellite dishes usually face East, where the Optus satellites and designated orbital slots are.
The satellite dish pictured in the far right-hand side is a telemetry, tracking and control (TTC) antenna, able to track satellites from east to west rapidly.
Smaller antennas are in place as 'canaries', reminiscent of the birds miners bought deep into the mines to warn them of danger.
“It gives us the ability to see the service we are providing to customers with antennas they would be using in their own environment,” Sheridan said. “If we use the big antennas, it might mask some issues the customers might have.”
Sheridan demonstrated an App which showed the location of various satellites orbiting Earth.
Satellites are mounted on rails for movement but they are usually stationary.
This is a telemetry, tracking and control (TTC) antenna, able to track satellites from east to west rapidly.
Smaller antennas mounted on a tower.
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