Korean firm Perigee plans first South Australian rocket launch

Max Blenkin

Korean space company Perigee Aerospace plans to launch its first rocket from the new Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex in South Australia next July.

Korean firm Perigee plans first South Australian rocket launch
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The company, backed by tech giant Samsung, will send its Blue Whale 1 on its maiden flight carrying a dummy payload to prove their two-stage rocket works.

The next launch planned for early 2021 will place a 50-kilogram payload into orbit, starting a steady business with the company planning to launch up to 40 times a year, with launches priced at just US$2 million.

This would be a first for Korea and a number of firsts for Australia. Perigee is Whalers Way operator Southern Launch’s first commercial customer.

Both Southern Launch in South Australia and Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) in the Northern Territory plan their first launches next year. For ELA, that will be a series of NASA sounding rockets.

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Both companies are in the process of developing their launch facilities.

Up to now, Perigee has revealed little of its plans.

Perigee Aerospace chief executive Yoon Shin said Blue Whale 1 would be capable of carrying 50 kilograms to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

“Up to now, we didn’t feel any need to announce our development plans or launch vehicle operations plans. But I think it’s a great time because we have now almost completed the development of the vehicle,” he told spacenews.com at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington this week.

Shin said Perigee’s team came together in 2012 but the company was only founded last year.

As well as unspecified financial backing from Samsung Venture Investments and other backers, Perigee has other helpful friends.

It’s been able to make use of a substantial amount of engine development work by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute also provided technical assistance.

Perigee now faces the regulatory hurdles to ship its rockets to Australia.

“The problem is exporting the launch vehicle from South Korea to Australian soil. That’s something no one has done before, so it’s taking some time,” Shin said.

Then there’s Australia’s launch regulations, a new process for the Australian Space Agency.

Perigee sees South Australia as a favourable launch location because of minimal aviation and shipping traffic. Launching south, rockets don’t overfly any other nation. Australia is also distant from South Korea’s bellicose northern neighbour.

Shin said a rate of 40 launches a year was possible because Blue Whale 1 will be the smallest rocket in the world.

It’s 8.5 metres tall and weighs 1,790 kilograms, half the size and a third the power of Rocket Lab’s Electron, which launches from New Zealand. It’s still capable of placing a 150-kilogram satellite into low-Earth orbit.

“The size really matters in terms of increasing the production rate, so I think that’s the biggest size that we can handle in terms of the mass production facility that we are making,” he said.

Perigee Aerospace already has eight launches in its order book, including an Australian university and a remote sensing package for a South Korean customer.

Once Blue Whale 1 is established, Perigee plans a larger rocket capable of placing payloads of up to 300 kilograms.

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