by Simon Mansfield
Sydney - September 14, 1999 - SpaceLift Australia has announced plans to launch satellite payloads from Woomera in South Australia into LEO orbits using a modified Russian SS-25 missile converted to launch commercial payloads. A test launch is planned for late 2000.
Spacelift Australia Ltd has signed an exclusive agreement with Russia for the provision of turn-key launch services, including solid fuel rockets.
Director of Spacelift Australia, Mr Max Webberley, said it would be the first time that Russia has provided complete launch service capability outside its own borders.
Webberley described the company's plans as something similar to a courier service "where we're ready to launch your payload when you are ready, without penalty payments and the like for payload delays," said Webberley.
The company plans to have at least two launch vehicles on-hand in addition to new launchers being built in Russia.
Webberley added that while a test launch is slated for December 2000, "we are hoping to bring that forward to soon after the Sydney Olympics to demonstrate to the world that Australia is not just a great sporting nation but also a technologically advanced economy."
As Woomera is an internationally known, secure, neutral and accessible launching site with excellent facilities, we will be able to supply demand driven satellite launch services to international customers, Mr Webberley said.
Of the current commercial space launching proponents in Australia, we will be the first company to launch payloads into orbit from Woomera because our technology already exists.
We are not about spending billions or even hundreds of millions in launch vehicle development or massive infrastructure development, as our technology can utilise the existing Woomera facilities.
The whole launch vehicle and support systems can be flown intact on a cargo plane to Woomera where customer payloads can be installed.
Mr Webberley said Spacelift is targeting a niche of the launch industry - payloads under 800 kilograms going into Low Earth Orbits.
Global market demand estimates are that there will be 2200 satellites, in the niche we are targeting, to be launched into low earth orbit over the next 10 years, he said.
We expect to fly three demonstration launches from Woomera late next year and commercial payloads from February 2001.
Both the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments are very supportive of the project which will utilise Woomera and its existing infrastructure and create a $200 million plus industry for South Australia and 150 new jobs.
The launching vehicles on which Spacelift's rockets are based are said to be the most proven, accurate and reliable launch vehicles in their class with a track record of more than 400 accomplished launches (72 of them in the presence of foreign observers) with 98.4% accuracy.
Spacelift says there has been strong interest from potential customers in bringing the technology to Australia.
Mr Webberley said the Spacelift Australia project represented a unique opportunity to revive and utilise Woomera and to re-establish Australia as a space nation without any time lag or substantial capital outlay.
He also announced that a team of Russian space experts would be visiting Woomera next month as part of finalising the feasibility study process.
Following today's announcement, Spacelift now plans to consult all interest groups, including aboriginal land holders, to ensure they are fully briefed.
About SpaceLift Australia
The actual launch services available from SLA will be completely provided by arrangement with the Russian space agency, STC Complex MIHT, and its sub-agencies, acknowledged as world leaders in this field. It is a "turnkey" venture where SLA will provide comprehensive launch services purchased under contract from Russia and delivered complete. SLA is targeting the market niche of smaller satellites (principally for telecommunications) under 800 kg in payload going into Low Earth Orbits (from 200 km to 1000 km above the earth). It expects to conduct three demonstration launches from Woomera late next year (2000) and commercial payloads from February 2001.
With extensive launch vehicle availability (from the Russian stockpile), SLA will change the way launch services are sold, from supply driven to customer driven. The launch vehicles are specifically suited to smaller payloads and have an excellent success record in positioning payloads. SLA has an exclusive supply agreement with Russia and it is the first time that Russia has agreed to provide complete launch services outside its own borders. These services will be provided at a secure, accessible and acceptable launch site at the world class facility at Woomera.
SLA regards the involvement of other space industry companies at Woomera as a bonus as it gives the Australian space industry a higher profile and proves that we can do it. There is room for a number of such projects at Woomera, which can co-exist and collaborate. SLA is targeting a micro-niche of the whole space launch market, whereas other currently proposed operations will cater for a much wider spread of payloads. Given the huge need for satellite launches, SLA is certain there will be plenty of customers for everyone.
So far SLA has completed the exploratory phase of establishing that what it is proposing is a viable business and what the potential might be. All facets, from market demand and specific customer interest to the potential of Woomera, environmental factors, regulatory issues and government attitudes, have been assessed. The next milestone will be the visit to Woomera by a team of Russian experts to undertake detailed scientific work to prepare for the technical aspects of the operational launching.
The SLA project will provide a number of benefits. Most importantly, it will be the first business to launch payloads into orbit from Woomera, putting Australia back into the international space industry. South Australia will resume the position it held in the 1950s and 60s as the home of significant space launching. SLA believes its project is vital for keeping Woomera alive. Its plans for about 130 employees SLA will not return it to its heyday. However, with the American withdrawal from Nurrungar expected to be completed by next March, SLA's plans will fill this gap and help to keep Woomera operational and healthy.
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