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Northern Territory space launch plans take off following land agreement

Rockets could be launched from Australia as early as next year following the signing of a land lease for budding launch provider Equatorial Launch Australia in the Northern Territory.

ELA is planning to establish Australia’s first commercial space centre and has already received initial approval from the Northern Territory government.

ELA expects to start construction of the Arnhem Space Centre early in 2018 and is now preparing to commence important Commonwealth and Northern Territory space and environmental approval processes.

The Territory government has this week signed a Project Facilitation Agreement with ELA, Gumatj Corporation and Developing East Arnhem Limited to work together to support the first phase of the space centre. Chief minister Michael Gunner said the economic benefit to the region is expected to be over $100 million, and has the potential to create approximately 35 jobs during the construction period and 32 full-time equivalent jobs once operational.

“This project has the potential to unlock new opportunities for the Gove Peninsula, drive the economic development of the East Arnhem region, and create local jobs in an exciting new industry,” he said.

The project agreement follows the granting of a 40-year sub-lease to ELA by Gumatj Corporation, which itself was granted a lease of 275ha by the Northern Land Council and Commonwealth Government. ELA's sub-lease comprises 60ha of this land for the commercial space centre.

 ELA CEO Scott Wallis said the Canberra-based company plans to use proven launch vehicle technologies to provide access to space for commercial, research and government organisations.

 “This project will provide a competitive alternative to large launch complexes, both in terms of infrastructure and associated launch costs,” he said. “It could also support and complement recent Australian space developments and ventures in small satellite manufacturing and space environmental testing, and support increased access to the space environment and the benefits it provides to the Australian economy.”

 Once established, the centre is expected to offer launch facilities for both homegrown satellites as well as satellites for regional countries.

CONSULTATION: The land lease follows extensive consultation with key stakeholders, including traditional owners. Gumatj CEO Klaus Helms said the partnership with ELA provided another opportunity for Gumatj to diversify its business operations and expand opportunities for local employment.

“This space centre is an opportunity for Gumatj and residents of East Arnhem Land to be at the forefront of developing a new industry for Australia, which will see longterm benefits for our region,” he said.

Not-for-profit economic development organisation DEAL said the project fitted its model to expand new industries in the region with the potential to create jobs.

 “We were very pleased to introduce this project to the region and facilitate the development,” CEO Carley Scott said.

“We have been working side by side with ELA, Gumatj and the Northern Territory government for over two and a half years now. We were able to assist ELA with introductions and relationship building with the Gumatj Corporation and Northern Land Council, as well as facilitate funding and consultation efforts that have enabled this project to move forward,” she said.

ELA has brought in a team with strong experience in the space sector in both Australia and the United States.

Founder Scott Wallis is an entrepreneur with a background in the space and defence industries in Australia. He has also teamed up with John Carsten, who had a career in the US space sector before coming to Canberra, where he has worked in the Australian Defence Test & Evaluation Office for Defence high-altitude rocket trials.

The ELA announcement comes 50 years after Australia's first satellite took off from Woomera in South Australia. The Weapons Research Establishment Satellite was developed the Weapons Research Establishment and the University of Adelaide and was launched on 29 November 1967. Geoff Long, Commsday