Australia’s first commercial rocket launch will take place in South Australia this year, after receiving approval from the federal government.
Australian space company Southern Launch will send a Taiwanese rocket into space after being granted a launch permit, it was announced on Monday.
The Taiwanese company TiSPACE will conduct a test flight of its suborbital rocket Hapith I. The rocket will blast off from Southern Launch’s Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex, on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.
A spokesperson for Southern Launch said: “We are still working with government agencies, including the Australian Space Agency, TiSPACE and other stakeholders regarding the launch timeline, including the date for launch.”
Hapith, which means flying squirrel in Saisiyat, a Taiwanese indigenous language, is a 10-metre-long rocket. Its test launch will be suborbital: the rocket will reach outer space, at least 100km above sea level, but will not enter orbit before falling back to Earth, over the ocean. The rocket has two stages, with the first stage exhausting its fuel anddetaching earlier.
The launch will test the rocket’s propulsion, guidance and data collection systems.
In a statement on Monday, TiSPACE said: “Two more suborbital launches and several orbital launches have been planned to follow this test launch.”
The company indicated it planned to launch three suborbital rockets from Whalers Way before the end of 2021.
If successful, the Hapith I rockets will eventually be used to deliver satellites weighing up to 390kg into low-Earth orbit, at altitudes of up to 700km.
Alice Gorman, an associate professor at Flinders University, said the announcement was a really significant step for Australia’s commercial space industry.
Gorman said it would eventually be possible to launch satellites from Australia into both geostationary orbit – which requires a launch site near the equator – and polar orbit, in which satellites pass over the Earth’s north and south poles.
“Particularly for our regional neighbours, who are trying to get their space programs kickstarted, this is perfect.”
“Australia was in the launch game right back at the beginning of the whole thing, immediately after the second world war. At the Woomera launch range [in South Australia] … rocket launches were taking place around the clock for a few decades.”
“We’re drawing on that heritage in launching rockets, but we’re doing it in new circumstances.”
TiSPACE – Taiwan’s first private space firm – had initially planned to test launch its rocket domestically, but reportedly faced issues gaining approval for a Taiwanese launch site.
Southern Launch was granted a facility licence in July for its Whalers Way launch site, amid opposition from conservation groups. The firm was granted a similar site licence for its Koonibba test range in March.
Gorman said space junk was a concern given the rise of commercial space operators globally. “The Australian space agency is overseeing all of that and I think we can be assured that our local operators are going to be behaving responsibly.”
Christian Porter, the minister for industry, science and technology, announced the regulatory approval on Monday. He said: “This is an important outcome in establishing Australia’s commercial launch capability and demonstrating what our country can offer to the international space sector.”