6 mins read 24 Nov 2021

Black Sky Aerospace Launch Australian developed Rocket

Queensland-based Black Sky Aerospace have successfully launched the first Australian designed and built rocket to be launched on Australian soil in over 40 years. The launch took place at their site in Goondiwindi. 

The Sighter 150 rocket launching from Black Sky Aerospace’s private launch site, Funny Farm, near Goondiwindi. Credit: Black Sky Aerospace.

Black Sky Aerospace, known for the development of locally made solid rocket fuel, has successfully launched the Sighter 150 sounding rocket to a height of approximately nine kilometres (30,000 feet) making it the first launch of a completely Australian designed and built rocket in over 40 years. 

This launch was the third in a series of test and evaluation launches that are supporting the company’s development of a sovereign space launch capability. 

“The launch was amazing,” said Black Sky Aerospaces’ CEO Blake Nikolic.    

“This is a critical step in the race to space,” he added. 

The company also tested a missile motor, which burned through 24 kilograms of rocket fuel in about nine seconds as part of a sovereign weapons program. The static launch allowed the company to prove the propellant and energetics, helping to understand the performance characteristics. 

“This helps prove out and refine our ability to track the rockets through flight and allows us to check performance of our hardware and software systems,” said Nikolic

Another rocket launch is planned for early 2022, with, according to Nikolic, this month's launch setting the tone for future innovation and development. It is hoped that the next launch will break through the Karma line, the line at which space officially begins, which is at 100 kilometres. 

Earlier this year, Black Sky Aerospace announced they would be partnering with the Australian Missile Corporation (AMC) along with composites specialist Quickstep. The AMC, which is a subsidiary of Australian munitions manufacturer NIOA, is a collaboration of organisations looking to support sovereign missile and guided weapons development.

BITSCore 5G security for satellites

Dr David Hyland-Wood with the Sighter 150 rocket at the Funny Farm site near Goondiwindi. Credit: Black Sky Aerospace.

The payload that was launched onboard the Sighter 150 was part of ongoing testing for BITSCore, which has also been conducting testing onboard the International Space Station in recent weeks. The Sydney-based company is developing secure software for the international aerospace and space industries.  

According to BITSCore CEO Dr David Hyland-Wood, there are clear trends that will require the telecommunications industry to provide seamless communications for end-users, leading to increased security demand.

“Just a few decades ago, people routinely sent faxes, letters through the post, and queued for hours to make overseas telephone calls. We take for granted the ease of today’s instant communication options,” said Dr Hyland-Wood of the technology. 

“The advent of 5G and the inclusion of (primarily) geostationary satellites into those networks will further improve communications, especially for the world’s developing countries. However, satellite cybersecurity needs to be ready to avoid those assets being taken over by attackers.” 

“We expect our primary market to be communications satellite operators and other satellite operators concerned for their cybersecurity, and our secondary markets to be in defence and mining.”

According to Dr Hyland-Wood, this testing is a continuation of the testing on the ISS and will see them reach technical readiness level 6 (TRL6) which is the verification of a prototype system demonstrated in an operational environment. 

“Reaching TRL6 is a huge step forward for us in that we are rapidly moving from design to deployment. It is only in deploying full solutions and operating them in complex environments that all of the requirements become obvious. Through the process of preparing for the suborbital flight and overcoming the many failures along the way, we have been able to find, fix, and extend our solutions in ways we could not have otherwise anticipated,” he added.

It is a busy time for the Internet of Things (IoT) company with Dr Hyland-Wood explaining they are also testing their “rideshare” tasking market software with the Royal Australian Navy. The software which provides a secure means of tasking a swarm of robot boats will be used during exercise Phoenix being held at HMAS Moreton in Brisbane. 

“It is the same software, just being used to task robots instead of spacecraft. We believe our general solution to securing tasking IoT devices such as satellites and robots can be extended to other commercial markets such as mining. It is the opportunities in space, however, that are of most interest in the long term,” he added.  

The Sounding Rocket

A display of rockets at the Woomera Missile Park Credit: Sascha Grant - History SA.

A sounding rocket is a rocket that has been designed to launch a payload to a sub-orbital height and return to Earth whilst taking measurements or running experiments. These types of rockets are regularly used to test equipment bound for space on satellites to ensure that it can stand the rigours of launch. The payload returns safely to Earth with the use of a parachute which means it can be retrieved and hardware analysed. 

For BITSCore, this testing involved two sets of software algorithms that will support satellite cyber security on 5G networks. Whilst the system onboard the ISS could test the software in a space environment, testing during the rigours of launch was also required.   

“We put the software on a board as a physical payload and tested our communications, using internet protocols to exercise our authorisation system,” said Dr Hyland-Wood. 

“Black Sky Aerospace is the only launch provider routinely currently providing suborbital flight opportunities in Australia. Fortunately for us, they are also reliable, nearby, and relatively inexpensive when compared with other options. Black Sky’s services were an obvious choice for us since we wished to emulate as many of the operational complexities of satellites as we could,” added Dr Hyland-Wood

The last Australian designed and built sounding rocket to launch from Australian soil was the Weapons Research Establishment’s (WRE) Corella which last flew in 1976. The 8-metre long rocket was the last rocket to fly as part of the upper atmosphere research conducted out of the Woomera test range. With an all-up weight of 445 kilograms, the Corella could carry a 45-kilogram payload to approximately 200 kilometres. 

“We have been out of the space race for a while, it is the fastest growing industry in the world and is going to be worth a trillion dollars in the coming years and it is imperative that Australia has a position in that, and we are excited to play our role, especially in these early days to get Australia back into space from a launch perspective,” concluded Nikolic.