China to lose access to Swedish-owned satellite trackers in Australia due to ‘complex’ market

The Swedish Space Corporation owns the Yatharagga Satellite Station at Dongara, south of Geraldton, in Western Australia.(Supplied: SSC Space Australia)

China will lose access to two important and strategic space satellite-tracking stations in Australia, with their Swedish owners citing the “complexity” of doing business with Beijing.

The Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), owned by the Swedish Government, operates 11 satellite-tracking facilities around the world, including the Dongara and Yatharagga stations south of Geraldton in Western Australia.

The Dongara station is primarily used by US government agencies such as NASA.

The decision comes as China continues its expansion into space exploration, and concerns continue to mount about the country’s intelligence-gathering operations in the science and technology sectors.

Last week, the ABC revealed a massive Chinese database contained specific information about Australia’s fledgling space industry.

SSC’s Anni Bolenuis said the company had found its relatively small size a barrier to effectively doing business with Beijing.

“It has become increasingly difficult for us to handle the complexity of the Chinese market and therefore we have decided to focus on other markets,” she told the ABC, speaking from Sweden.

“We will not enter into any new contracts with Chinese customers after the current contracts expire.”

Ms Bolenuis would not detail exactly when the contracts were due to run out, but said they were “long-term” deals that “were entered into quite a long time ago”.

She also would not be drawn on SSC’s specific concerns about China’s recent behaviour.

“I think everyone who has followed developments can see that the Chinese market is complex,” she said.

“I won’t go further into that, but we have clearly seen that it has influenced our view.”

In 2008, SSC was spruiking its new office in Beijing as “an important step” to “maintain contacts and give local support to our Chinese customers as well as further explore our possibilities on a fast-growing Chinese space market”.

The Yatharagga station was used in 2013 to monitor China’s Shenzhou 10 launch, which was the nation’s fifth crewed space mission.

The ABC has contacted the office of Industry and Science Minister Karen Andrews for comment.

By Matthew Doran


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