5 mins read 05 Nov 2020

Reusable Rockets To Launch from South Australia

Not long following their successful rocket launches from the Koonibba Test Range in South Australia, Southern Launch have announced a new Cooperation Agreement with German Space Agency DLR to develop and test reusable rocket technology.

Southern Launch Australia has announced a new cooperation agreement with Germany’s national Space Agency DLR, that’ll see their South Australian facilities used as the base for the German Agency’s rocket technologies.

The cooperation agreement aims to implement joint civilian research activities in the field of suborbital and orbital space launch, especially in the field of reusable launch vehicles (RLV). Working together on such activities is a major step towards further developing Southern Launch’s capabilities and launch sites to conduct safe and economically affordable rocket launches.

DLR has expressed interest in the South Australia Koonibba Test Range to launch and study their new rocket technologies, launch equipment and access to space capabilities – as part of DLR’s objectives in researching and developing future reusable rocket technology, similar to that utilised by many other commercial operators like SpaceX, RocketLab and Blue Origin.

Both Southern Launch and DLR are working towards a 2022 launch date where a DLR rocket will lift off from the Koonibba Test facility and climb to sub-orbital, or orbital altitudes, before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and descending back to Koonibba.

“We are very proud to be working with DLR on a number of rocket projects and look forward to contributing into an international space program such as DLR’s” said Lloyd Damp, CEO of Southern Launch.

Drone image of the recent Southern Launch rocket soaring towards the sky from the Koonibba Test Range. Credit: Southern Launch (supplied).

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the agreement showed the demand for launch within South Australia’s space industry.

“This collaboration is further evidence of South Australia’s attractiveness to international space companies, thanks to our thriving local space industry and proven ability to facilitate successful rocket launches from within the state,” Premier Marshall said.

“There has never been a better time to be involved in the space industry in this age of global space exploration and advancement, and South Australia is the best place to centre Australia’s global space endeavours.”

“This cooperation unlocks flight testing potential that is not otherwise attainable through a joint effort by DLR and Southern Launch. It further strengthens and adds to Mobile Rocket Base’s cooperation with Australian research partners, adding to the growing collaboration of the two countries in space research and utilisation.” says Rainer Kirchhartz, Head of DLR’s Mobile Rocket Base.

The Koonibba Test Range facility is located in the far west region of South Australia and is the world’s largest privately-owned rocket test range that allows rockets to be launched 145 km bearing north, over the uninhabited Yumbarra Conservation Park and Yellabinna Wilderness Protection Area.

The facility is also hosted by and in corporation with the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Cooperation, who has worked with local traditional owners of the land who are on board as the world’s first First Nations community to host a commercial space launch facility. It is expected that the test range will produce a small number of local jobs for Indigenous communities in the region.

Following September's successful sub-orbital flights for Southern Launch from Koonibba, Mr Damp said he was pleased with the progress the company has made since, and noted that the team is gearing up for their next mission.

"We're currently planning our next launch campaign and we hope to be releasing more details on when that launch campaign will occur over the coming days and weeks," he said.

Artist illustration of the DLR ReFEx rocket in orbit. Credit: DLR (supplied).

The rocket that DLR is working towards is known as the Reusability Flight Experiment, or ReFEx – a vehicle which lifts off the ground like a rocket, but then returns to Earth as a winged glider, incorporating a horizontal landing which is guided by autonomous navigation.

The vehicle features an active aerodynamical control system, which allows it to take in measurements and inputs during flight and perform stabilisation adjustments, helping it follow planned flight mission objectives.

For Southern Launch, this has translated into getting the groundwork at their local facilities ready in preparation for this project.

"We're [Southern Launch] involved in a lot of range infrastructure and are working very closely with DLR, as well as engaging relevant Australia regulators and different governing bodies to allow ReFEx to be launched in Australia and have a successful flight," said Mr Damp. 

A notable spin-off from the new cooperation agreement between DLR and Southern Launch will be the establishment of an educational sounding rocket program in Australia, allowing universities to enrol their students to undertake space-based research projects, that provide direct, hands-on and real-world experiences. 

"It's very important that people get involved in rocket launches. Hands-on experience is a spectrum - from the planning of launches to being onsite and observing how rocket launches happen, it really sets people up to understand the business environment under which new space companies operate and the complexities of launching large rockets," added Mr Damp.  

Southern Launch has recently achieved success with the first commercial rocket launches for Australian in decades, lifting off from Koonibba in mid-September, and cruising to sub-orbital altitudes before deploying their payloads.

Two small rockets, each weighing 35 kilograms soared towards the sky reaching an altitude of approximately 85 km before releasing their payloads – small radio transmitting and sensing devices that were developed by DEWC systems.


Video credit: DLR YouTube (supplied).