South Australian space company Southern Launch, which plans to conduct its first commercial launches later this year, is now developing a rocket test range in the state’s far west.
This could be the world’s largest privately operated rocket range and would be used to trial rockets for commercial launch from the planned Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex on the Eyre Peninsula.
Southern Launch said the proposed Koonibba Test Range was located on Aboriginal land around 40 kilometres north-west of Ceduna and would extend 145 kilometres over uninhabited national park.
Already a customer has signed up to have rockets tested. These will only be sub-orbital launches and rockets won’t reach orbit.
That could be Korean space company Perigee Aerospace, which plans to launch its first rocket from the new Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex in July.
The company, backed by tech giant Samsung, will launch its Blue Whale 1 on its maiden flight carrying a dummy payload to prove their two-stage rocket works.
Once proven, a second launch planned for early 2021 will place a 50-kilogram payload into orbit.
Southern Launch plans to launch up to 40 times a year.
Last year, the South Australian government granted the Whalers Way facility major project status.
From Whalers Way, rockets will head south over the ocean into polar orbit. Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the test range was over land, giving customers the ability to recover their rockets to perform further testing and systems validation.
“You can go and pick them up afterwards and visibly go and inspect the components or retrieve space telescopes and the likes,” he told the ABC.
“This means companies and universities can get very, very involved in doing space research in Australia.”
“We’re working with different companies, universities, organisations and space agencies around the world, so that they can bring their rockets to the site, and we help them get all the permits and they can then do a safe launch and recover their payloads and rockets.”
Mr Damp said their first launch from the test site was for a paying customer, “which is fantastic for Australia, because it shows a true belief in Australia as a space-capable nation”.
To develop the range, Southern Launch has consulted with local Aboriginal groups, farmers and local councils and has all the approvals it needs to use the site.
Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation chairperson Kevina Ware said some locals were hesitant when the plans were first presented.
But after working with Southern Launch, the Indigenous community was now onboard, she said.
“They soon reassured us that everything was OK, you know, no chemicals were going to affect our community and outlying areas, so we were quite happy with that,” she told ABC.
“We’ll be the first First Nations community to host a commercial space launch. That in itself is history.
“It’ll put us on the map. We’re pretty excited for that.”
Southern Launch now just needs launch approvals from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Space Agency.
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