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Starship failure informed launch pad design, says ELA

The chief executive of spaceport firm Equatorial Launch Australia has said his company learned lessons from failed blast-offs to help design its new launch pads.

Speaking to Space Connect, Michael Jones said his team studied failures from TI Space and SpaceX to help create mitigation techniques such as its water deluge system.

ELA unveiled its final plans for its “state of the art” launch pads on Tuesday, which can handle weights of up to 450,000 kilograms.

The final seven pads will be located at the Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory and feature an 80,000-litre water deluge system aimed at reducing the adverse effects of rocket plumes. It will also boast a nitrogen ‘oxygen purge system’ to tackle post-blast-off fires.


“We learned lessons from seeing TI Space burning on the pad,” explained Jones.

“Most people didn’t see, but there was a very early version of Starship with the top section coming back. It landed off-centre and had a bit of a residual fire from just the heat that the engine produced.

“Automatic water cannons, for instance, were firing, but missed it because it landed off-centre.

“So I looked at that and went: ‘We really need to have a good system so that we plan for the worst case of having an accident on the pad.’


“So we said lets have pre-wetting, lets have large, really efficient water deluge for the period of launch.

“And if we have any residual fire, I want to purge all the oxygen out of it. Nitrogen is the best source of that. And theres a reason why we use nitrogen, as well as the longer term. In the next 18–24 months, were likely to construct a liquid oxygen plant on-site.”

Jones added that the water cannons on the new pads will also be able to be steered rather than being fixed in one set position.

“We took a long time and had a team of five people working on it,” he said.

ELA is hoping for the first launches from the new pads in March 2025, with two suborbital launches due to take place next year on its existing pads.

Space Connect reported earlier this year how the spaceport firm announced a Korean launch company would become its first long-term tenant.

The pair are now working with the Australian Space Agency to obtain a launch permit – a process that is expected to take between six and 14 months to complete.

ELA believes it can eventually accommodate up to seven rocket companies at its site, fuelled by strong demand for satellite launches combined with a lack of supply from traditional rocket companies overseas.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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