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Date set for SA rocket launch as NewSpace prepares for lift-off


Two South Australian companies are joining forces to launch Australia’s first space capable rocket in the state’s far west next month.

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Southern Launch will host the September 15 launch at its Koonibba Test Range (KTR) 40km northwest of Ceduna on land leased from the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation.

Launched northwards, the rocket will carry a small payload into the thermosphere where it will be released from the rocket to fall gently back to earth under a parachute where DEWC Systems, escorted by a local Aboriginal Cultural Monitor, will recover and examine it.

The rocket itself will be unlike any rocket ever launched in Australia. Designed and built in the Netherlands by T-Minus Engineering, the DART rocket will weigh only 34kg, have one rocket engine, yet will have two rocket stages.

The rocket will burn out of fuel 6 seconds after lift-off and be travelling at Mach 5, or approximately 1.5 kilometres per second.

The launch of the T-Minus Engineering Dart rocket, with a DEWC Systems payload, from the Southern Launch Koonibba Rocket Test Range with the Koonibba people also marks the start of NewSpace launches from Australia.

“This event is more than just Australia’s first launch, but a testament to Australian companies coming together with our international partners to push the boundaries of the conceivable and inspire future generations to be spacefarers,” Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp said.

The rocket will be a symbolic launch of NewSpace in Australia, the name given to the emerging small satellite industry, which will open up a range of new capabilities such as monitoring the seas for piracy, observing the growth of crops across the world, or connecting rural farmers to a distant water tank through the Internet of Things (IoT).

The miniature payload, built by SA electronic warfare company DEWC Systems, will be a prototype electronic warfare unit capable of detecting radar signals. Future versions of the payload will go into orbiting satellites.

DEWC Systems CEO Ian Spencer said the time was right for industry to be bold and to lead.

“This mission is an important step to developing true sovereign, space capability for Defence and is an excellent way to showcase the power of collaboration between innovative Australian industry partners.”

“The challenging question for Australia now, isn’t can industry deliver, it is can government and regulators keep up?”

The front “Dart” section, emblazoned with artwork developed by the Koonibba Community, will detach from the rocket and continue into the thermosphere while the larger rocket motor will fall back to earth.

Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation chief executive officer Corey McLennan said the corporation had been actively engaged with Southern Launch throughout the process and was excited that the venture had come to fruition.

“Our people continue to have a strong connection with the land, the sea and the sky, so with Southern Launch developing a rocket test range on our lands, we are excited to develop a partnership role in developing Australia’s space future,” he said.

The state’s history of rocket launches dates back to the 1950s when US, British, European and Australian scientists launched dozens of long-range missiles and sounding rockets from the site.

Next month’s Koonibba launch will also be a significant milestone in the state’s rebirth as a space industry player, which has gained significant momentum since it was announced Adelaide would host the new Australian Space Agency in 2018.

Southern Launch is also building a rocket launchpad on southern Eyre Peninsula. The 1190-hectare Whaler’s Way site is about a 35-minute drive from Port Lincoln and will be used for launching small satellites into sun-synchronous or polar orbit. 

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