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NT launch sites one step closer to reality

NT launch sites one step closer to reality

Stephen Kuper

Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) has announced that it is on track to establishing a launch site in East Arnhem Land, with approval for the project granted by the traditional owners and the Northern Land Council. 

ELA has been granted a 40-year sub-lease from Gumatj for a 60-hectare parcel of Gumatj’s larger lease area adjacent to the Garma site and Gulkula mine near Nhulunbuy.

Approval from traditional owners, the Northern Land Council and the Commonwealth government for the head lease to Gumatj, which enables the sub-lease to ELA, is the first step towards launches commencing, which is expected in late 2018.

ELA chief executive Scott Wallis said the Canberra-based company plans to use proven launch vehicle technologies to provide access to space for commercial, research and government organisations.

"This project will provide a competitive alternative to large launch complexes, both in terms of infrastructure and associated launch costs. It could also support and complement recent Australian space developments and ventures in small satellite manufacturing and space environmental testing, and support increased access to the space environment and the benefits it provides to the Australian economy," Wallis said. 

Extensive consultation has been undertaken with key stakeholders in Australia, including traditional owners, and internationally to ensure the viability of a spaceport in Arnhem Land.

Gumatj CEO Klaus Helms said the partnership with ELA provided another opportunity for Gumatj to diversify its business operations and expand opportunities for local employment.

"This space centre is an opportunity for Gumatj and the residents of East Arnhem Land to be at the forefront of developing a new industry in our region for Australia, which will see long-term benefits for East Arnhem Land," Helms said. 

Gumatj deputy chairman Djawa Yunupingu added, "The Gumatj people are excited to work with ELA on this new project, on our land."

NT government is one of the four organisations that have signed a project facilitation agreement, which is led by Developing East Arnhem Limited (DEAL) and includes ELA and Gumatj, to deliver the Arnhem Space Centre.

Not-for-profit economic development organisation DEAL said the project fitted its model to expand new industries in the region with the potential to create jobs.

DEAL CEO Carley Scott said, "We have been working side by side with ELA, Gumatj and the NT government for over two and a half years now, and were able to assist ELA with introductions and relationship building with the Gumatj Corporation and Northern Land Council as well as facilitate funding and consultation efforts that have enabled this project to move forward.

"Following the Chief Minister’s commitment to work with South Australia and the ACT, it is clear that the Northern Territory government understands the importance of the growing space industry and the potential for this project to provide opportunities in the Northern Territory and East Arnhem Land. The project will provide training and education, support job creation, drive innovation and development of new technologies, and attract new investment to the region."

ELA expects to start construction of the Arnhem Space Centre early in 2018, which would be another important step among the many they are taking.

The approval of the land tenure paves the way to commence important Commonwealth and Northern Territory space and environmental approval processes over the next 12 months.

The Arnhem Space Centre project will include multiple launch sites using a variety of launch vehicles to provide sub-orbital and orbital access to space for commercial, research and government organisations. It will include the provision of critical infrastructure and support to domestic industry, defence and academia.

ELA is uniquely positioned to take advantage of recent rapid developments in small satellite technologies that utilise light launch vehicles, providing a highly competitive alternative to large launch complexes, both in terms of infrastructure and associated launch costs.

ELA has undertaken extensive consultation with key stakeholders in Australia and internationally, to ensure the viability of a spaceport in Arnhem Land. Discussions have positively identified key interest and opportunities in domestic launch operations; international launch operations; satellite operations and testing; space sciences; space education; avenues for broader education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and support for government space-related activities.

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