The nation’s fast-growing private space industry is sparring with Defence and the federal government over the use of Australia’s Woomera launch range testing site.
Australia’s private space start-ups, which have ballooned to more than 60 in number over the past two years, would like to use the rocket launch site for anything from nano-satellites and spacecraft to cargo ships that could be sent to the International Space Station.
But Defence, according to several company and government sources, is pushing back. It says the site – a prime piece of Crown land in South Australia two-thirds the size of Germany – is locked up for the next four years. There are plans to use the site to test Australia’s problem-plagued F-35 fighter jets.
The reason the private space industry wants Woomera so much as a launch site is because it has all the required approvals to launch things into space. These approvals, which require community consultation, including with Indigenous people, often take several years to obtain.
The resistance from Defence comes as the federal government announced at a space congress in late September that it would launch a national space agency, making Australia the second-last OECD country to have its own.
Few details have been revealed about the agency, such as what it will do, its funding, and who will lead it. A review, led by former CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark AC and an Expert Reference Group, is under way. It is due to report back in March next year.