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HomeVolume 28Turf Club secret: What's in that box?

Turf Club secret: What’s in that box?

By ERWIN CHLANDA

The Alice Springs Turf Club is hosting Chinese satellite navigation equipment with potential military use and apparently without the knowledge of the Federal Government.

This is alleged by a source, formerly linked to the company that supplied it, speaking with the Alice Springs News on the condition of not being named.

The source says the site inside the Pioneer Park racecourse is part of a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) which can pinpoint latitude and longitude of locations similar to most smartphones, except far more precisely.

It is accurate to 30 centimetres instead of 10 to 15 metres.

Most critically, the Australian GNSS systems can be turned off in the evert of war when they could be useful to an enemy.

But the Chinese system, operating from just the other side of the Alice Springs Turf Club’s finish line (photo at top), could be kept going, because the government doesn’t know it’s there, or does not know what happens inside that metal box, claims the source.

It is about a metre and a half high and less than a metre wide and long, with two soccer ball size antennae on poles a few metres away.

Our source claims the link to China of this “course correction” Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) became obvious to them by tracing the site’s VPN (Virtual Private Network) internet connection.

There are similar installations in other locations, says our source, all handled by the same company, Av-Comm.

“These sites can be used for commercial, science, military or clandestine activities but without proper registration the intent is unknown,” says the source. 

“It has even been suggested the sites are so sensitive they can detect changes in the ionosphere as a means of detecting nuclear explosions.

“Could it be for jamming our new SBAS Satellite Based Augmentation System reference signals?”

We asked Geoscience Australia (GA) whether the Alice Springs site is on its National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC) register.

Richard Tanter, Senior Research Associate, Nautilus Institute, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Melbourne, says GA “registers all GNSS facilities in Australia”.

But GA replied the Alice Springs site “is not part of NPIC and as such, is not a matter for GA”.

On its website NPIC says: “Positioning Australia offers precise positioning of 3-5 cm accuracy through our network of continuously operating Global Navigation Satellite Systems ground reference stations. The network spans all of Australia and its external territories.”

The Alice Springs site was installed in 2020 by local firm Central Communications. The owner of the company, Sandra Hill, says the client was Av-Comm and the work was done with permission from the Alice Springs Turf Club.

Ms Hill says under customary supplier-client relationships she is not at liberty to give further details.

The News contacted Av-Comm and we received this unsigned reply: “GNSS reference sites are installed all around the world, by a large number of commercial navigation and land survey suppliers.

“This is how modern survey work is achieved. Av-Comm has installed many GNSS sites and for a range of commercial suppliers.

“Each and every installation having been prior advised to the required Australian authorities and having received all of the necessary Government approvals before installation.”

We received no response to our question on whether the facility on the Alice Springs Turf Club was also Av-Comm’s work, nor whether it is a Chinese GNSS Reference station nor where the navigation data is being sent to.

Our source says US Federal Communications Commission rules require licensing of non-federal receive-only equipment operating with foreign satellite systems, including receive-only earth stations operating with non-US licensed radio navigation satellite service (RNSS) satellites.

Our source asks: “Why is this not happening here?”

The News drew blanks from several Australian Government institutions we sent questions to:-

Australian Communications and Media Authority (which licenses the Australian spectrum for users such as TV and radio): A reply was promised but not received.

Australian Signals Directorate: “The ASD has received an enquiry from you through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The following is attributable to an ASD spokesperson. The Australian Government does not comment on matters of national security and intelligence, in accordance with longstanding practice.”

It’s a national security and intelligence device then, just off the end of the final straight?

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation: “ASIO has no comment on this matter.”

Says Prof Tanter: “You’ve probably already seen that GA [Geoscience Australia] cooperates with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as NASA etc.

“Av-Comm is a big fish in the Australian space comms pond, working with Defence and NASA and Lockheed Martin. So I doubt they are doing anything sinister with the Chinese Beidou system.

“On the other hand, I hope we still do some cooperation with non-US GNSS systems – Chinese, Russian, EU, Indian.

“All of them are dual civil/military, and it’s better to cooperate while we still can.

“Of course, I’ve always been interested in the facility next door at the Alice Springs Data Acquisition Facility in Heath Road.

“Also GA? Ex-NASA?”

Turf Club CEO Mark Summers says the arrival of the mysterious box on the infield predates his appointment.

The club receives a “nominal payment” as rent and he thought it was for a weather station.

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