A company that’s developing a launching pad for space rockets in Australia Top End is worried that the project is at risk due to government red tape.
Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) has warned that required approvals can’t be left “sitting on a desk” at the Australian Space Agency, the Adelaide-based Commonwealth organisation responsible for the development of the country’s commercial space industry and coordinating domestic space activities.
Company has NASA launch contract
The ELA has a contract with NASA to launch rockets from the Arnhem Space Centre near the small town of Nhulunbuy in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The first launch was due this year, but has now been delayed until around mid-2021.
ELA Chief Executive, Carley Scott, was quoted recently by the Darwin Innovation Hub as saying the plan had to be pushed out as the project awaits government regulation and restriction plans.
“Northern Territory startup Equatorial Launch Australia secured the deal with NASA in 2019, and while it’s one small step for a startup, the Arnhem Space Centre will be a significant site in the Asia Pacific region and attract new business and investment opportunities to the Territory,” the Hub stated.
Process with Aussie space agency is pivotal
Speaking to ABC Radio Darwin this week, Scott said the contract could be at risk if the site doesn’t receive launch approval next year.
“The process with the space agency is really at a pivotal point right now. If these approvals aren’t made efficiently, there’s a lot at stake. The NASA contract needs to stay on track,” she said.
But the deputy head of the Australian Space Agency, Anthony Murfett, told the ABC the onus was on ELA to meet safety and regulatory requirements in order to receive approvals.
Agency won’t compromise on safety
“We don’t want to compromise on safety,” he said.
“Going to space is a significant undertaking, but the onus — and the legislation that we ensure compliance against — is to ensure these activities are as safe as practicable.”
When the awarding of the NASA contract to ELA was made last year, Scott said it was the first time the US space agency had agreed to launch rockets from a non-government-owned site.
Arnhem Land’s geographical advantages
One of the reasons NASA was keen on the site was because of Arnhem Land’s unique geographical advantages, she told the ABC.
“When the space sector thinks of Arnhem Land, they really look at the fact [that] you are close to the equator.
“Facing eastward, there are low-risk profiles, so a lower population base, lower infrastructure nearby, and lower trade nearby … which means there are more opportunities to launch more often and in more directions.”