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Queensland-designed rocket system to boost Australian space industry

Stephen Kuper

New technologies for a next-generation hybrid rocket that will launch small satellites into low-Earth orbits from 2022 are being developed in Queensland, thanks to a partnership between University of Queensland researchers and Gilmour Space.

Queensland-designed rocket system to boost Australian space industry
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An Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship grant has been awarded to University of Queensland’s Dr Ingo Jahn to work with Gold Coast-based Gilmour Space on propellant feed systems and cycles for space launch vehicles.

Dr Jahn said having researchers and industry work closely together was invaluable for Australia’s space industry, “Rather than buying products from overseas, the rockets and components will be manufactured in Australia, and this is an essential step towards developing a space launch vehicle industry in Queensland, with many expected flow-down benefits to our manufacturing industries.”

The UQ team is focusing on developing and validating the fuel feed system, which must meet the stringent control and performance requirements of the launch system while also remaining as light as possible.  

“Fuel delivery systems for rockets are one of the most complex engineering challenges. They are located at the intersection of multiple systems; to stay light they have to be incredibly power dense, they must operate across wide temperature and pressure ranges and they are safety critical,” Dr Jahn added. 

Gilmour Space is at the forefront of the development of next-generation hybrid rocket technologies that are safer and more cost-effective than traditional chemical-propulsion rockets.

Chief operating officer and company co-founder James Gilmour said 2020 would be a busy year for the group as it developed and tested the various rocket systems in the orbital launch vehicle.

“We’re grateful to UQ and the government for supporting our efforts to grow a space launch industry here in Queensland,” Mr Gilmour said. 

Dr Jahn added, “This is an excellent opportunity as it allows know-how and fundamental research conducted at UQ to be transferred to an application of national importance. Seeing your research adopted into a product is the dream of every researcher and engineer – what could be better than seeing your research fly to the stars?”

To support the project, the Advance Queensland grant will fund another PhD researcher at UQ for three years, providing a rare opportunity for knowledge transfer and on-the-job training with a leading space company.

Minister for State Development, Tourism and Innovation Kate Jones congratulated Dr Jahn and Gilmour Space for their efforts to advance space manufacturing here in Australia.

“The Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship is awarded to top researchers in their fields. It is with commercial-oriented partnerships like these that we will foster close collaborations between our key industries and universities, leading to significant areas of growth for Queensland and Australia,” Ms Jones said.

Gilmour Space is a venture-backed Australian rocket company developing new capabilities for launching small satellites to space.​

Founded by two brothers in 2013, this Queensland-based start-up is now one of Australia’s leading space companies pioneering new and innovative hybrid propulsion technologies that will offer lower-cost access to space.

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