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ELA to blast off suborbital rockets this year

Spaceport firm Equatorial Launch Australia has agreed a deal with a Singaporean rocket company for a series of suborbital launches later this year.

The blast-offs – hinted at by chief executive officer Michael Jones in an exclusive interview with Space Connect weeks ago – will take place on the traditional ELA launch pads at its Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory.

The arrangement with the similarly named Equatorial Space Systems (ESS) is initially an MOU but could lead to a fuller deal for the company to become a longer-term tenant blasting off orbital rockets.

Jones said the two firms were a good fit for each other.


“We have a cost-effective solution for both small and larger rockets,” he said.

“We have facilities for assembly, integration and test of both engines, sub-systems and the entire rocket. The other obvious advantage is our remoteness.

“This makes recovery and operations for sub-orbital launch and testing easier and when offset by the access to the area via a jet-serviced airport and a deep-water port, our customers are all seeing the key attributes that set us apart from other space ports.”

The upcoming launches this year will use ESS’ Dorado rockets which will carry science experiments and technology demonstrator payloads.


However, it could lead to future and more regular, orbital blast offs using the launch company’s Volans rockets that can carry a 500-kilogram payload.

ELA said four other Asian rocket companies had indicated their interest in becoming clients and had visited the Northern Territory to inspect the spaceport.

It comes after a Korean launch company agreed to a deal with ELA last August to become its first long-term tenant.

Innospace will blast off “several” rocket variants, each carrying payloads of between 50 and 500 kilograms, into low-Earth orbit from early next year.

ELA is planning to eventually accommodate up to seven resident launchers initially, but the site has the potential to grow further.

To accommodate the expansion, the company recently unveiled both next-generation horizontal integration facilities and launch pads.

The “state of the art” launch pads can handle weights of up to 450,000 kilograms and feature an 80,000-litre water deluge system to reduce the adverse effects of rocket plumes.

Jones told Space Connect in December the company learned lessons from failed blast offs to help design them.

“Most people didn’t see, but there was a very early version of Starship with the top section coming back,” he explained. “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 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.”

Simon Gwozdz, CEO of Equatorial Space Systems, said, “ELA and ESS are bonded not just by the similarity in our companies’ names but also by the common vision for more sustainable, democratised, and flexible space access for the global space economy.

“Together, we are poised for a period of exponential growth as we prepare to launch our upcoming rockets from East Arnhem Land.”

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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