Jun 19, 2020

Bowen thrust into the space race limelight

Bowen thrust into the space race limelight The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the United States last month.

Bowen has been earmarked as a potential site for a commercial satellite launch complex.

Hot on the heels of SpaceX’s historic launch last month comes news of the work that could propel development of a Queensland rocket hub.

CQUniversity Deputy Dean of Research, Professor Steven Moore, said the university had been working with Regional Development Australia, the Whitsunday, Mackay and Isaac Regional Councils, The Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation and Gold-Coast based rocket manufacturer Gilmour Space on Launch Whitsunday.

The commercial satellite launch complex is proposed for the Abbot Point State Development Area near Bowen.

“One of the biggest gaps Australia has in the space industry in comparison to the U.S. is not having a commercial launch facility,” he said.

“If this proposal goes ahead all the different satellite and rocket companies around Australia and the world will be able to utilise the complex.”

Excellent location for launch base

An original white paper written by Professor Moore outlined the geographical, climate and financial benefits of a launch site within the regional footprint.

“The Bowen region of Queensland is an excellent location for a launch base, being only 20 degrees south of the equator rockets can harness the earth’s rotation to slingshot eastward to achieve both equatorial and polar orbits with less fuel,” he said.

“The dry subtropical climate is ideal, and the region has considerable manufacturing and transport infrastructure, and the state development area around Abbot Point has plenty of space to ensure a safe buffer zone around the launch site.

“Additionally, Queensland is in a fortunate position to receive government support for space industry advancement. In February the State Government released the Queensland Space Industry Strategy 2020-2025 and plans to contribute an $8 million investment to the scheme.”

Professor Steven Moore (left) with astronaut and commander of Expedition 43 Terry Virts, after post-flight testing at Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2015.

Professor Moore has also proposed that CQUni develop a space industry research centre at the Mackay Ooralea campus.

“This would cover satellite development, communications, remote sensing applications as well as leveraging interest in space for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education,” he said.

Last week UNSW Canberra launched the M2 Pathfinder satellite from a site in New Zealand in what was described as a milestone for the Australian space industry.

M2 Pathfinder is a collaboration between UNSW Canberra Space researchers and engineers and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It is the second of four cube satellites to be flown in the program, and follows the launch of M1 in late 2018.

UNSW Canberra has launched the M2 Pathfinder satellite and is now successfully communicating with it.

Queensland has a comparable latitude to Cape Canaveral, Florida, which hosts the Kennedy Space Centre, one of the world’s busiest launch sites.

The State Government believes Queensland has four key space-related strengths that are primed to capitalise on:

  • Opportunity for launch: advantageous location, an existing launch supply chain, and supporting university-led research base
  • Opportunity for ground systems: suitable weather conditions, proximity to the equator, and remote internet and data backhaul services
  • Space-enabled services: existing industries (e.g. Earth observation) strengthened by Queensland’s climate, geography and remoteness
  • Robotics, automation and manufacturing: built through Queensland’s strong aerospace, research, mining, manufacturing and defence industries.

Australia’s most advanced launch vehicle developers – Gilmour Space Technologies, Black Sky Aerospace and Hypersonix – are all based in Queensland.

MAIN page image: The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the United States last month.