As the world of remote sensing takes off, so too is the commercial and civilian space launch industry. And in that race, Australia is beginning to stake a claim.
The country is already developing some momentum through the 2018 creation of the Australian Space Agency. But for Australia to build a holistic ecosystem for the era of Space 2.0, commercial launch facilities must be a part of the infrastructure.
Based in Adelaide, Southern Launch is one of the early movers in launch infrastructure. It has secured land on the remote Eyre Peninsula to develop two facilities: a testing range at Koonibba and an orbital launch facility at Whalers Way at the peninsula’s tip.
Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp, a rocketry veteran with 15 years of experience at the Australian Department of Defence, says that with Australia moving into small CubeSats, it is vital for the industry to provide next-generation commercial launch facilities.
“The infrastructure needed for these small vehicles and small satellite payloads is entirely different from the huge infrastructure needed in the past,” he says.
“We are not looking at Cape Canaveral here. The reality is that today you can basically launch a rocket off a car park. It can be done on the most rudimentary of flat concrete pads with a couple of shipping containers for ancillary support.”
Space needs space
But while that might sound easy, the hard part is in finding appropriate land.
At the Koonibba test range, Southern Launch has access to an uninhabited area that is 145 kilometers long and covers around 10,000 square kilometers.
The Whalers Way site, which enables launches out over the Southern Ocean, comprises over 1,100 hectares developed for orbital launch.
Damp says Southern Launch has two business models centered around each of the facilities it is developing.
“At its simplest, we provide space launch services,” he says.
“We work with a rocket manufacturer or operator and get them to come onto one of our ranges and get them into space. We help with any of the logistics and the operational aspects of bringing vehicles into the country, onto the launch pad, and into space.”
Space as a service
The second business model is where Southern Launch acts as a “launching services provider.”
“A potential satellite manufacturer will come to us and want to test their equipment, and they will ask us to source a vehicle,” says Damp.
“In that case, we identify a vehicle, find a launch date and broker a deal between the parties, and we may even operate the vehicle as well.”
An example of this was the company’s first launch last year. In September 2020, Southern Launch succeeded — at the second attempt — in launching a DART rocket with a payload for DEWC Systems.
Underlining the scale of the new space technology, the rocket was just 3.4 meters long and weighed 34 kilograms, and yet was propelled around 85 kilometers into the atmosphere.
The cigar-shaped DEWC satellite weighed only 170 grams, was 27 centimeters in length and had a ceramic heat shield for re-entry and a Kevlar parachute.
Its payload was a radar sensor to detect radars operating across Australia, designed to collect information and feed back to an earth ground station.
Lloyd Damp says Southern Launch is talking with many potential customers, a majority of them international, about coming to South Australia to launch. The company has been on a hiring spree and now has a headcount of around 20, the majority with deep rocketry experience.
“We hope to have Whalers Way up and operational by the end of 2021,” he says.
“We have a strong pipeline of customers talking to us, both locally and internationally, and we are very excited about our future and the role we can play in helping develop a vibrant space industry in Australia.”
Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends, and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/Alexyz3d