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ELA’s spaceport won’t become military target, says CEO

The chief executive of Equatorial Launch Australia has played down community concerns the firm’s spaceport could become a potential military target for adversaries.

Michael Jones told the ABC arguments the Arnhem Space Centre could one day launch missiles towards other countries were “politically motivated” and “fearmongering”.

Jones was speaking in response to the worries being raised by both NT politician Yiŋiya Guyula and a local environmental organisation.

The NT spaceport conducted three launches for NASA in 2022 and last month unveiled the final plans for seven more “state of the art” launch pads. It has ambitions to one day target weekly launches from up to 14 pads.


Guyula, an independent member of the NT Legislative Assembly, said, “Yolŋu are worried they’re going to be launching missiles towards other countries that might damage and cause harm to people.

Environment Centre NT’s executive director, Kirsty Howey, added she was concerned the site could become a “potential military target”.

In response, Jones said the business has no intention of becoming a target for Australia’s enemies but may one day test launch technology for Defence.

“If we can get some defence launches, where we’re testing their rockets and propulsion systems, then the secondary benefit of that is they tend to have big budgets and are always at the cutting edge,” Jones said.


ELA last year announced that a Korean launch company would become the first long-term tenant at its Arnhem Space Centre.

Innospace is targeting a first blast-off next year and is currently working with the Australian Space Agency to obtain a launch permit.

The business 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.

Last month, it unveiled the final designs for its new launch pads it believes are so versatile they can be used by multiple clients with minimal changes.

Other key features include technology to minimise damage from rocket plumes, mitigate environmental impacts, and handle launch weights of up to 450,000 kilograms.

Jones told Space Connect his team built the pads after studying failed TI Space and SpaceX launches.

“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 engine’s heat.

“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 let’s have pre-wetting, let’s 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 there’s a reason why we use nitrogen, as well as the longer term. In the next 18–24 months, we’re likely to construct a liquid oxygen plant on-site.”

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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