Queensland Launch Site One Step Closer
The Queensland state government has announced they will support a push to deliver a rocket launch site at Gilmour Space’s preferred location of Abbot Point. The proposed location, just North of the Whitsunday Coast, in the Bowen region has been found to be suitable for small-scale launch vehicles in a recent report.
Abbot Point, in the Bowen region of Queensland, has long been touted as Queensland’s preferred launch location and a report released late last year confirmed its suitability. The Queensland deputy premier and Minister for State Development Mr Steven Miles, has suggested that the state government will support a push to develop the Abbot Point site.
In the announcement, he said that the Queensland government was committed to the development of launch infrastructure in the state and would encourage Gilmour Space’s application to develop the site.
“Growing our space industry in Queensland will add billions to the economy and create thousands of local jobs. That’s why we are committed to the development of launch infrastructure,” said Mr Miles.
“Our easterly facing position, proximity to the equator, and our leading launch and propulsion companies make Queensland the perfect place to invest in space,” continued Mr Miles.
Queensland is certainly pushing forward with space technology, with not only Gilmour Space announcing ongoing developments but local companies such as Hypersonix Launch Systems and Black Sky Aerospace continuing to build local capability.
“Our next step is to continue to work with key stakeholders to get all the necessary approvals we need to proceed on building and operating an orbital launch facility at Abbot Point,” said Mr Gilmour.
"We look to develop this launch site in phases. For now, we're planning a simple facility for our launch vehicle and payload integration and a launchpad that will be able to support our first few Eris rockets launches starting from next year," he continued.
Launching Rockets from Queensland
The location of Gilmour’s preferred launch site is no accident, with the choice of launch locations critical to any launch provider. The site at Abbot Point has a number of strategic benefits, not least the ability to launch over water, as it is preferable to launch rockets over uninhabited areas. The site also has the advantage of being close to the equator, where the rotation of the Earth will assist with the launch.
Abbot Point is located at a latitude of 19° which would give the launch site a significant advantage over sites further south. Every extra kilometer of speed required for launch adds to the fuel required and therefore reduces payload capacity.
With the development of on-orbit transportation vehicles such as the Space Machines developed, Optimus-1, Abbot Point has the potential to fulfil a very real need in Australia’s space launch market.
A sentiment echoed by Gilmour Space co-founder and Head of Launch Operations, James Gilmour who said that a launch site at Abbot Point in North Queensland would give our customers a range of valuable orbits, inclinations, and altitudes that they will require.”
Queensland’s Strategic Defence Advisor for Aerospace, Air Vice-Marshal Neil Hart (ret’d) said launch facilities are one of the foundational elements of developing a true sovereign space capability. “There is considerable interest in leveraging the geographic advantage of an East coast launch from low latitudes,” Mr Hart said
A recent report into the project has confirmed that the Abbot Point site would provide a suitable location for small-satellite launch vehicles with Mr Miles saying “[t]he technical and environmental investigation into the opportunity to launch space rockets from Abbot Point has found this particular site is suitable for small-scale launch vehicles.”
Abbot Point is not the only location Gilmour are looking at with the rocket company also looking at a proposed launch site in South Australia for complementary polar orbits, in line with their vision to achieve 'All Orbits, All Planets'.
"Abbot Point will be able to give us a range of low- to mid-inclination equatorial orbits. This would be complementary to Whalers Way in South Australia with their access to polar orbits," said Mr Gilmour.
Australia is currently developing a number of commercial launch sites, primarily, the Southern Launch operated Whalers Way site and Equatorial Launch’s, Arnhem Space Centre, near Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. Southern Launch also operates from the Koonibba Test Range.
Having sovereign commercial launch facilities will be essential to the growth and sustainability of Australia’s space industry. According to the 2020 Queensland Space Industry Strategy, launch is seen as one of the state's key strengths.
Mr Miles echoed this sentiment saying, “[h]aving multiple launch facilities would be a huge drawcard for Queensland, which would undoubtedly bring more global players and jobs to the state.”
With the Queensland coast offering a wide range of launch options, Abbot Point is not the only site that is being considered. Another site that has long been spoken about as a potential launch site is the Moody Space Centre in Rockhampton.
Launch sites are hot property in the current space marketplace as not only key in underpinning the industry as a whole but also the benefits that come along with them. A Deloitte Access Economics report found that a launch site and space-related infrastructure would be catalytic for the space industry, providing more research, development and market opportunities for Queensland. In the current economic climate, jobs and skills development are critical to the state's recovery.
"A facility like this would launch Queensland’s economic recovery into orbit,” said Mr Miles “Investing in priority industries like space is a part of our economic recovery plan,” he continued.
"[We see this development as] very important, as we’re going to have a rocket ready to launch next year and will need an approved site to launch it from. This announcement gives us the green light to move forward on our development application to launch from Abbot Point. We will also continue to assess Whalers Way in South Australia for polar orbit launches. It's worth noting that no space industry in the world has achieved success without government support and we are looking forward to working with the Queensland government to develop this site," said Mr Gilmour.
There is definite optimism that this announcement will kick start the development. “With sufficient and timely support, I see no reason why we can't be demonstrating key sovereign space capability next year, launching our first Australian-made rocket, with Australian payloads, from an Australian launch site,” he concluded.