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Queensland urged to create regional launch facility for small satellites

 

The Queensland government has been urged to set up a regional launch site in the state to capitalise on the expected high demand for small satellite launch facilities in the next few years.

 

Hypersonix founder Michael Smart told the government that the coastal region around Gympie would be an ideal location for a launch site and would bring signiicant economic beneits to the area.

 

 Hypersonix was set up last year to commercialise the University of Queensland's research in scramjets – which could form a key component of a re-usable satellite launch system. Both the Queensland and Australian governments have invested over $70M in UQ's hypersonic/scramjet research over the last 30 years. As well as facilitating a launch area in Queensland, Smart has requested the state government provide seed funding via a strategic investment of $10 million in Hypersonix, which he said would ensure that the technology remains in Australia and is able to generate jobs and low-on beneits for the Queensland economy.

 

Smart, who doubles as the University of Queensland Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion, made the calls in a submission to a state government inquiry into job creation opportunities in Queensland arising from the establishment of an Australian space industry. He estimated that 300 direct high-tech jobs would be involved in the design, manufacture and operation of a small satellite launch system, with a further 100 jobs in business, inance and administration.

 

“All these jobs could be in Queensland, building upon the existing strong aerospace sector. Once established, this capability would act as a catalyst for companies involved in all levels of the space supply chain,” Smart said in the submission. “The positioning of a launch site in regional Queensland would have signiicant economic lowon effects on the surrounding community.”

 

FOLLOW NEW ZEALAND LEAD? Smart also pointed to the example of Rocket Lab in New Zealand, which has set up a launch facility for small satellites and quickly attracted a strong list of commercial customers. The submission noted an earlier economic analysis of Rocket Lab to the New Zealand economy by Sapere Research Group. In 2017 Rocket Lab had 200 direct employees, with a planned expansion to approximately 300 employees when fully operational. Over a 20 year period, a value of between $360M and $1.05B was estimated for Rocket Lab’s contribution to the New Zealand economy.

 

For Queensland a signiicant beneit could be achieved by “clustering” and leveraging the strong aerospace sector that already exists in south east Queensland. “A small satellite launch capability would create a centre-of-mass around which Australian Space 2.0 companies could operate and grow. Having a close connection between launch services, satellite component manufacturers and end-users of satellite data, can create synergies that promote commercial competitiveness in all areas of the space supply chain.

 

New advanced aerospace/composites/avionics manufacturing capability would also be needed,” the submission noted. It also recognised two other current proposals to set up launch facilities in Australia: Equatorial Launch Australia in the Northern Territory, which is close to the earth’s equator, and Southern Launch in South Australia.

 

While equatorial sites suit low inclination orbits and sites far from the equator are better for high inclination orbits, Smart said that the Queensland location would be a “general purpose” launch site that beneits from being “in between” in the same way as launches from Florida in the US.

 

RETAINING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Hypersonix is commercialising the Spartan launch system that has been developed via UQ. Its goal is to launch small satellites to orbit once per week from Australia for both Australian and international customers.

 

The submission said that development of this capability over a ive-year period would be a game changing high-tech project for Australia. Once established, it estimated revenue of $125M per year would accrue from a minimum of 25 launches per year – a $2.5B industry over a 20-year period. However, it also cautioned that the company could be forced to locate overseas without support – similar to Rocket Lab’s move to the United States. “Hypersonix seeks to remain an Australian company.

 

It is currently pursuing Phase A funding, where the most pressure is applied by venture capitalists to control ownership and structure. Seed funding of as little as $10M would enable Hypersonix to mature SPARTAN without giving away equity or control. Local control of the company will enable it to remain in Queensland,” the submission stated.

 

According to Hypersonix, total funding of $150M is needed to get to commercial launch. Once the technology is matured through seed funding, it expects the remainder of the funds to be obtained from the investment community.

 

“This would be a very highly leveraged use of seed funding, where a $10 million allocation could result in a $2.5B industry for Queensland,” it told the committee looking into the Queensland space industry. Geoff Long

Australasia Satellite Forum 2019

 

The Westin Hotel, Sydney, Australia

21 & 22 May 2019

 


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