FROM LITTLE THINGS BIG THINGS GROW. How Southern Launch helped launch the Australian space industry




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For any industry there’s a seed, a starting point for investment, innovation and inspiration. It’s a company, person or natural resource that attracts other companies to support each other and invest in the future. For the South Australian space industry that seed is Southern Launch.

Southern Launch team member at the Koonibba Test Range

A launch site is essential for space exploration. It’s the place that propels us into the universe and allows us to explore the endless opportunities space has to offer. For the space industry, the launch site is a central point that attracts other space companies and builds, layer upon layer, a connected web of space companies and supporting industries.

Established in 2017, Southern Launch is a space launch services provider headquartered in Adelaide. The company operates two spaceports in regional South Australia and provides end-to-end space launch services for customers based in Australia and abroad.

Southern Launch has been a key driver in developing the commercial space industry in Australia. Established before the Australian Space Agency in 2018, Southern Launch has paved the way for other launch providers, rocket and satellite manufacturers and space technology development to establish a presence in Australia and more often than not, in South Australia.

Southern Launch mission control on launch day

South Australia has a strong history in space exploration. The Woomera Range Complex in South Australia’s north launched Australia’s first satellite in 1967 and hosted over 500 suborbital launches to space and 2 orbital flights out from Australia’s red centre. This strong space heritage, combined with the small satellite revolution and geographical advantages the State has to offer, makes it the perfect central point from which the Australian space industry can evolve and develop.

Southern Launch was founded by CEO Lloyd Damp. Prior to starting Southern Launch, Lloyd spent over 12 years working for the Australian Government specialising in complex program design and delivery. While there Lloyd also played a small part in helping Australia undertake regular rocket launches into space from Woomera.

Lloyd credits this experience at Woomera for helping establish Southern Launch, ‘During my time working for the Australian Government I realised the potential we had in South Australia to be a major player in the global space industry. South Australia is home to an incredibly bright and skilled workforce, a strong foundation in defence and space exploration and geographically located to achieve orbits not possible from many other places in the world.’

The Southern Launch team preparing to launch the VS03 rocket from Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex

Starting out with just one employee, Southern Launch now employs almost 30 people and remains at the forefront of fostering a full-spectrum strategic, sovereign, and globally engaged space sector in Australia. Lloyd says, ‘I believe that Australia is ideally placed to be the leading global hub for space launch operations. We can play a significant role in shaping the future of the global space economy.’

Bringing space launch to South Australia brings benefits to the state and the economy. It is projected that the gross ongoing economic impact of Southern Launch’s space launch facilities will contribute upwards of $450 million to the South Australian economy. The launch facilities will also deliver almost 500 new, high-tech, employment opportunities in Adelaide and regional South Australia. ‘We are proud to be leading the ground-breaking work that will benefit South Australia’ Lloyd says, ‘Of course there’s the economic impacts but hosting space launches from SA will also attract skilled workers and other ancillary industries to our state and that is incredibly exciting.’

It is the evolution of space technology that has helped Southern Launch emerge with a unique product offering in the global space economy. In recent years the size of satellites has reduced dramatically as technology has evolved. Where once upon a time a satellite was as large as a truck and cost upwards of $300 million, satellites today are around the size of a microwave, can be mass produced and cost less than $1 million.

Southern Launch customer ATSpace’s VS03 rocket on the launch pad

This shift in satellite technology has demanded a shift in the types of orbits required by satellite companies. Satellites are now launched in a constellation with a goal to cover as much of the Earth as possible to make them commercially viable. This means more and more companies are wanting to launch into a polar or sun-synchronous orbit rather than the traditional equatorial orbit.

Southern Launch is perfectly positioned to provide for the next generation of satellite manufacturers. Lloyd explains ‘Our Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex is one of the only spaceports in the world that offers unhindered launch trajectories across unpopulated areas into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. This means we can provide our rocket and satellite customers with rapid access to space and minimise the fuel and effort required to get the satellites into the desired orbit.’

Koonibba CEO Corey McLennan and Lloyd Damp with the certificate for Australia’s first licensed space launch facility, the Koonibba Test Range

The Koonibba Test Range was developed in conjunction with the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation and was Australia’s first licensed space launch facility. The range extends 145 kilometres over uninhabited land and covers over 10,000 square kilometres of range area. Lloyd explains the significance of the Koonibba Test Range, ‘Validating rocket and satellite technology before launching into space is a critical step for companies. Being able to provide a test range for our customers to use before launching from our orbital complex is a unique offering not available with any other launch service provider in the world.’

The Koonibba Aboriginal Community has been actively involved in the development of the Koonibba Test Range. The development of the range has also resulted in significant investment for the local Koonibba and Ceduna communities. Chief Executive Officer of the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation, Corey McLennan says, ‘Working with Southern Launch in Koonibba is tremendous for our community. We benefit through skills upgrades, employment opportunities and investment. Most importantly, our children and young people are inspired by the world of opportunities available to them when space is right on our doorstep.

The Southern Launch team with members from the Koonibba Aboriginal Community

Southern Launch continues to grow and evolve as the company matures. Today the company is made up of a team of leading engineers, project managers, specialists, and regulation experts who work with rocket manufacturers and payload customers to manage all aspects of launch. Lloyd says, ‘Our evolution as a company has been quite organic and is driven by the expertise our team has and continues to develop. I started Southern Launch solely as a launch provider, today we are a team with the expertise and knowledge to consult on a range of different projects and also develop our own technology in-house.’

This drive for constant innovation has seen Southern Launch expand into developing its own launch vehicle. In October 2022 the company revealed the first iteration of a modular and adaptable launch vehicle.

The Southern Launch team preparing a weather balloon at the Koonibba Test Range

The vehicle was designed through a joint project with defence and industry and is scheduled to launch into space in 2023. Lloyd says, ‘The development of our launch vehicle is a fantastic example of how partnerships between government and industry can fast track research and development of new technology. We are incredibly proud of the vehicle we have produced and are looking forward to sending it into space from the Koonibba Test Range.

Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp at the Koonibba Test Range

Southern Launch was the small seed in 2017 that has helped a whole commercial space sector and supporting industries grow in Australia. The future for Southern Launch is bright and full of ambition. Lloyd says, ‘Over 50 years ago South Australia was second to Cape Canaveral in hosting launches to space. I hope that in a few years South Australia will be back on the map as a global space powerhouse.’ It’s a case of watch this space.

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