4 mins read 02 Aug 2022

Southern Launch and ATSpace to launch two test rockets

The Australian Government has granted approvals to launch two suborbital rockets from Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex this year.

ATSpace and Southern Launch with the Kestrel I rocket. Credit: Southern Launch.

Pushing the envelope of the Kestrel

Two more sub-orbital rockets are soon to leave Australian soil, with the announcement that the Australian Government has granted South-Australian-based launch company, Southern Launch, as well ATSPACE, two new launch approvals from the Whalers Way launch complex. The announcement, made on the 20th July 2022 have been given two missions names, VS02 and VS03 respectively, and have a two-fold purpose.

Firstly, they aim to push the envelope of the Kestrel I rocket by incrementally testing the rocket under different conditions. A 10-metre two-stage launch vehicle, the Kestrel I will reach an altitude of more than 200 kilometres. For the manufacturer, ATSpace, this testing is an integral part of the design process so that engineers can identify any weak links and improve future rocket designs. In fact, according to Dr Yen-Sen Chen, the Chief Executive Officer of ATSpace, test launches are the only way to attain technical maturity for any launch vehicle company. 

“These two suborbital launches will provide us with valuable data to validate our future Kestrel V orbital design. They are the gateway to ATSpace’s growth and future investment in Australia and jobs for Australians,” says Chen.

ATSpace was founded in Australia in January 2021 and is the sister company to TiSPACE from Taiwan, which has previously worked with Southern Launch at the same launch site. Its rocket manufacturing facility is situated in Wingfield, South Australia, and currently, it is developing non-explosive hybrid rocket propulsion technologies that enable fast turnaround space launch services.

The three-tonne Hapith I was the first rocket to be tested at Whalers Way in 2021. Credit: ABC News, Evelyn Leckie.

Assessing the impact beyond the launch pad

The second purpose of the missions is related to the impact of the launch itself. During the launch, on-site personnel will collect noise data from the lift-off to help inform the future operation of the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex. 

The Launch Complex was first proposed in 2018, and was officially approved by the Australian Space Agency in 2021. Southern Launch led the construction of the site and continues to be the main operator. It is a highly strategic site, with close proximity to established industry infrastructure that can support rocket launches, good year-round weather, and low in air and nautical traffic density. 

Southern Launch’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Lloyd Damp, is proud to contribute to the significant progress across Australia’s space industry. “For Southern Launch to be supporting Australia’s most complex commercial space launches from our site is a remarkable achievement by my proud team,” he says.

The location of Whalers Way in South Australia. Credit: Southern Launch.

However, Whalers Way is a pristine coastal area and home to a rich ecosystem of flora and fauna, and understandably, it has sparked concern among conservationists and traditional owners. With these concerns in mind, Southern Launch has adhered to strict conditions when building and operating the launch complex, and has even sponsored $180,000 towards a study into two bird species endemic to Whalers Way.

Southern Launch continues to test parameters of launches, including noise and vibration, to assess and minimise the impact on the surrounding environment. The company is “committed to advancing a sustainable local space launch industry in Australia,” Mr Damp says.

The site at Whalers Way, known for its pristine ecosystem. Credit: Southern Launch.

Contributing to Australia’s space value chain

The establishment of infrastructure like Whalers Way, and collaborations like that of ATSpace and Southern Launch, are hallmarks of Australia’s burgeoning space industry. For aspiring students, academics, professionals and entrepreneurs, there are countless opportunities to pursue a space career on Australian soil (which was not the case several years ago).

“This industry will create new high-paying, skilled jobs for regional and rural Australians and in doing so will advance Australia’s science and technology capabilities,” Damp reminds us. 

South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC) Chief Executive, Richard Price, is confident that South Australia’s history of space launch, dating back to the 1950s, will be beneficial for the local economy. “Space launch infrastructure and capability is important for the continuing growth of our collaborative and innovative space ecosystem, which is creating unprecedented opportunities for local businesses to deliver across the entire space value chain,” he says.

With a rocket manufacturing company and a launch service provider bringing their unique capabilities to the table, it will be exciting to see the outcomes of these two upcoming test missions. Provided that these launch operations tread lightly on the surrounding natural ecosystem, we may be seeing more rockets launching from Whalers Way in the near future.