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US–Australia launch deal passes key milestone

The landmark deal to allow more US rockets to blast off from Australian spaceports looks set to become law after MPs and senators approved it.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) confirmed on Thursday it had approved the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) after it heard from stakeholders, including the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) and spaceport firm Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA).

It follows Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signing off the agreement in Washington in October alongside the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

Australia currently has several launch sites preparing to launch rockets, including ELA’s Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory, Gilmour’s Bowen Orbital Spaceport in Queensland, and Southern Launch’s Orbital Launch Complex in South Australia.


However, launching US spacecraft in Australia is difficult, given concerns about protecting sensitive US technology. The TSA, though, removes many of the barriers firms face in both countries.

“This agreement aligns with Australia’s national interests and benefits the development of the Australian space industry, by growing a more skilled workforce in the space sector and providing increased opportunities for Australian companies,” said Josh Wilson MP, the committee chair.

“The increase in US investment and activity will also benefit the Australian economy. The agreement reflects Australia’s commitment to transforming and growing our space sector, as well as further developing our strong bilateral relationship with the US.”

Upon the original announcement of the TSA last year, both ELA and Southern Launch praised the deal.


“This creates a circular process that will benefit the wider local space industry and put the skills and capabilities of Australian space companies to the forefront of the global space market,” said Southern Launch chief executive officer Lloyd Damp.

“Not to mention the incredible benefits that in-space manufacturing can provide to everyone in society – the TSA paves the way for a new era of space potential.”

ELA’s CEO, Michael Jones, said his business had been negotiating with US rocket manufacturers for several years now, and his team have been awaiting the TSA’s completion.

“Today’s events are great news for us and clears the way for us to finalise our contracts with US launchers,” he said.

“The agreement with the US will be the most comprehensive and detailed TSA of its kind for any nation and there has been a lot of effort by key Australian space industry parties and government entities behind the scenes to ensure we get it right.”

However, despite its broad support from the industry, the agreement has faced criticism for its constraints, which include only allowing US staff to be allowed near their launch vehicles in specially defined “segregated areas”.

“Australia’s role would be essentially limited to renting out concrete pads and providing morning coffee to our American friends as they walk into their secured site,” Adam Gilmour told The Australian earlier this year.

“So much for supporting growth across our local supply chain and opening new doors for highly-skilled tech jobs and supply chains in Australia.”

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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