4 mins read 07 Jun 2022

Southern Launch receives grant for Mobile Launch Rail

Australian spaceport and space mission provider, Southern Launch, has been awarded an Australian Space Agency Moon to Mars Grant for their mobile launch rail.

In 2021, Southern Launch worked with TiSpace to support the launch of the VS01. Credit: Southern Launch.

South Australian-based company Southern Launch have announced they will receive a grant of almost $1 Million to support the design, construction, and commissioning of a mobile launch rail. The grant has been awarded as part of the Australian Space Agency Moon to Mars Initiative, which is part of the Australian Civil Space Strategy and supports the NASA endeavour to go to Mars via the Moon.  

“The Mobile launch rail is part of the infrastructure needed to launch sounding rockets into space,” said Southern Launch CEO, Lloyd Damp. It will be capable of launching sub-orbital vehicles ranging in total mass from 20 kg to 3,500 kg and will allow the company to utilise the launch rail at both the Koonibba Test Range and the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex.

“The mobile launch rail will allow the testing of new rocket and payload technologies, which in turn will grow jobs across the Australian space industry,” said Mr Damp.

With launch services providing not only access to space but also critical testing opportunities, the demand for global launch capabilities has been growing and Southern Launch are hoping to capitalise on this market. 

“The opportunities that mobile launch rail will bring – increased interest from international rocket manufacturers looking for a range to test their technology -  will demonstrate to the global space industry that Australia is a competitive space-faring nation, which will, in turn, provide more opportunities to the local space market,” added Mr Damp.  

Mobile Launch Capability

The Whalers Way launch complex (under development) will provide access to Polar and Sun-Synchronous Orbits. Credit: Southern Launch.

The mobile launch capability will allow Southern Launch to provide their customers with the sounding rocket launch infrastructure and services, and complement the long-term orbital launch facilities at Whalers Way while they are still being developed.  

According to Mr Damp, this capability will allow rocket and payload manufacturers to launch, test and recover their technologies. This is an important step for an industry looking to develop its technical readiness levels. 

“Southern Launch offers suborbital launch services where rockets follow a parabolic trajectory up into space before falling back to the Earth as this is a critical stepping-stone in the development of space exploration. For example, the Koonibba Test Range is being developed to operate suborbital launches only, allowing rocket and payload manufacturers the ability to launch, test and recover their technologies. In some cases, the next payload/technology evolution is to launch into orbit,” added Mr Damp.

Technical readiness levels (TRL’s) relate to a product's maturity and space flight history with a TRL of 1 being little more than an idea based upon scientific foundations, through to TRL9 which is a flight-proven product. Gaining flight heritage can be one of the biggest obstacles to product development, as a product that works well on Earth may not survive the rigours of launch and the space environment. 

“The testing of sounding rockets is a very viable way to validate technology before undertaking more advanced testing of the technology in more complex environments, e.g. attempting an orbital launch. For us at Southern Launch, we are currently in the planning and approval phase of our long-term infrastructure. Having mobile infrastructure and equipment allows us to hit the ground running; providing this additional service to our customers while refining our in-house technology and space launch procedures,” said Mr Damp.  

Southern Launch is aiming for mobile launch rail to be fully operational by early 2023 and it is hoped that the facility will be utilised by both local and international customers. The site at Whalers Way, which was approved in 2021,  allows access to both polar and sun-synchronous orbital regimes with unhindered southward launch trajectories across unpopulated areas with low-density air and nautical traffic lanes. 

In May Southern Launch welcomed the German research centre for aeronautics and space, DLR to their facility. DLR are developing a reusable flight experiment (ReFEx) vehicle which will be launched on a sounding rocket from the Whalers Way site. It is hoped that the demonstration vehicle will be launched in 2024. 

Peter Rickmers, DLR ReFEx Project Manager said, “We are very happy to have the support of the Southern Launch team as our partner and interface in Australia for such a complex launch campaign. Flying a vehicle like ReFEx, which is purposefully designed to only use aerodynamic control and horizontal landing as RLV technologies is a challenge. Having the Southern Launch team support us in this endeavour and also offer a very large range with the option of land recovery is a unique asset”.