Spaceport operator and launch technology infrastructure company, Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) has today announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Singaporean rocket company Equatorial Space Systems (ESS) for a series of launches of the Dorado family of suborbital rockets at the Arnhem Space Centre, planned for late 2024.

ESS has plans for an expansive family of rockets up to and including orbital rockets and this MOU paves the way for a comprehensive Spaceport Services Agreement which could see ESS possibly become a resident launcher at the spaceport in the future, conducting orbital launches for satellite clients with their Volans rocket featuring up to 500kg payload capacity. All future launches are subject to the necessary regulatory approvals being met by both the Arnhem Space Centre and Equatorial Space Systems. The Dorado launches are planned from the end of this year and will carry science experiments and technology demonstrator payloads.

Initially ESS will leverage the spaceport’s existing infrastructure – the same launch pad used by NASA in 2022 when ELA conducted three successful suborbital launches with the US space organisation – the first successful commercial launches for Australia and the first commercial launches for NASA outside of the US.

“I’m pleased to announce the MOU with ESS today. ESS is a rapidly emerging Singaporean rocket company with impressive launch vehicle solutions, and we are looking forward to working with them on their technology demonstrator missions and to service their payload customers,” said Michael Jones, Executive Chairman and Group CEO of ELA. “Our companies have more than just our names in common, we have a common vision for pushing the boundaries of space technology and space infrastructure.”

Simon Gwozdz, CEO of Equatorial Space Systems said “ELA and ESS are bonded not just by the similarity in our companies’ names, but also by the common vision for more sustainable, democratized and flexible space access for the global space economy. Together, we are poised for a period of exponential growth as we prepare to launch our upcoming rockets from East Arnhem Land.”

“For all the reasons why the Arnhem Space Centre is growing in popularity and commercial interests globally, we are a really good fit for ESS. We have a cost-effective solution for both small and larger rockets, we have facilities for assembly, integration and test of both engines, sub-systems and the entire rocket. The other obvious advantage is our remoteness. This makes recovery and operations for sub-orbital launch and testing easier and when offset by the access to the area via a jet serviced airport and a deep-water port our customers are all seeing the key attributes that set us apart from other space ports,” said Mr Jones.

The Arnhem Space Centre is rapidly emerging as both a global and Asian launch site of choice. The MOU with ESS follows the announcement in August 2023 of a multi-year, multi-launch deal with Korean rocket company Innospace for 12 orbital launches due to commence in 2025. In addition, another four Asian rocket companies have indicated their interest in launches from the site and have made visits to the ASC to inspect the spaceport.

‘I’m thrilled to see this level of interest from Asian-based launchers,’ said Mr Jones. ‘It makes sense due the flexibility of orbits and launch directions from our site plus the ease of access to the Arnhem Space Centre which simplifies logistics for our customers from this region, and of course other aspects like similar time zones and favourable weather conditions are also conducive to a seamless launch campaign.’

“As well as Asia, we’ve had strong interest from Europe and the US too, and we are in continual discussions with launchers and their payload customers in those locations,” said Mr Jones. “Australia’s geopolitical stability, mature economy, supportive regulatory environment as well as our remoteness and access to multiple orbit options are attractive to the global space industry and our ability to relieve the launch congestion being experienced overseas also puts us in a great position to service growing demand.’

The company recently released completed Spaceport of the Future designs for its Space Launch Complexes comprised of a state-of-the-art Horizontal Integration Facility building and ‘game changer’ ASCALP launch pad designs – the latter of which utilises innovative launch pad technology allowing any NewSpace rocket to be quickly and seamlessly mated with the pivot base of an ASCALP launch pad through the use of a proprietary interface plate element. The technology will help meet rapid-response launch needs of the future.

About ESS

Equatorial Space is a Techstars-backed, Singapore-headquartered rocket propulsion and launcher company started in 2017. With its proprietary propulsion technologies, Equatorial Space builds game-changing, eco-friendly, low-cost and explosives-free rockets to foster the future of space exploration. In 2020, Equatorial Space became the first company in Southeast Asia to test launch a commercially developed rocket prototype, testing it’s core technologies. It will begin orbital launch services in 2026.

Source: Equatorial Launch Australia

Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) has today released completed designs for its state-of-the-art launch pads, a world first in launch pad design allowing any NewSpace rocket to be quickly and seamlessly mated with the pivot base of the pad, enabling all seven Space Launch Complexes (SLCs) at the Arnhem Space Centre (ASC) to launch any rocket with very little notice for configuration change. The company believes this innovative design is the most advanced NewSpace small to medium rocket launch pad in the world and will help to meet rapid-responsive launch needs in the future. The design also significantly minimises damage created by rocket plumes, substantially increasing the reusability of the launch pads.

The highly technically advanced design, named the Arnhem Space Centre Advanced Launch Pad (ASCALP), will accommodate all current class NewSpace small launcher rockets up to approximately 450,000kg launch weight (up to 3000kg payload weight). The pads will provide advanced thermal and acoustic protection damage mitigation aspects, advanced environmental and safety aspects as well as detailed and comprehensive support services integration. The pads were also designed with the aim of simplifying and making rocket handling, mounting and support safer and more efficient.

“Every element of this ASCALP is designed to improve the safety and efficiency of launch. It is also designed to make the operation of the Arnhem Space Centre much more efficient and cost-effective. The use of a proprietary Interface Plate element seamlessly mating a rocket to the Pivot Base of the pad allows each rocket to mate and be used with the standard launch pads anywhere on the ASC site” said Michael Jones, Chairman and Group CEO, Equatorial Launch Australia. “This has multiple advantages, including having all seven Space Launch Complexes at the ASC able to launch any rocket with very little notice for configuration change.”

Leading the charge in small launch, ELA has designed the ASCALP as a fully integrated and all-inclusive pad which incorporates extensive, safety, flexibility and efficiency of support services such as gases, propellants, oxidisers, and data acquisition and transmission that are required for launch.

The key features of the ASCALP design include:

A 90-degree, triple redundancy, hydraulically controlled Pivot Base which facilitates easy and quick rocket mount and dismount, a detailed support service layout with permanent plumbing, control manifolds, and digital control and monitoring of all gases and liquids. The pads and pivot bases at every SLC are the same and are pre-designed to accommodate either single barrel, dual booster and quad booster rockets. “The use of a standard Pivot Base and adaptable Interface Plate allows the pad to be quickly adapted and changed for another rocket if necessary. Eventually every rocket company customer will have their own Space Launch Complex at the ASC, but this plan allows us maximum flexibility as we grow into that situation,” said Mr Jones.

Each rocket has its own custom designed Interface Plate element which allows easy connection to the Pivot Base and doubles as the work platform. All rocket services and the umbilical connection are integrated and routed through the Pivot Base to the interface plate and on to the rocket itself. This design allows each pad to accept the wide range of rocket sizes and shapes and their attendant support equipment including strong back variations, hold down/retention device mechanisms, umbilical configurations, and other support services and devices. The pad also incorporates an advanced 80,000 litre Water Deluge System via either an annular or rectangular outflow manifold which is aimed at reducing the potential adverse thermal and acoustic effects on both the rocket and pad of up to 16500km/h high velocity and >4000°C rocket plume. Extensive research and testing with unique computational fluid dynamic analysis of the proprietary manifold design with various flow aperture sizes and locations optimises the spray/flow pattern effectiveness.

A multilayer/composite plume deflector is a key element of the ASCALP design. The multi-angular deflection and channelling/containment device utilises steel, heat resistant concrete and proprietary ablative coating to minimise the damage created by the plume, allowing multiple launches without refurbishment or replacement.

“The design and re-usability of the deflector and the lack of damage to the pad overall was a key aim and it all adds to the efficiency and cost-effective solution we are offering our customers,” said Mr Jones.

The 12 metre (standard) height of the pad – from rocket base to bottom of plume deflector and plume chamber is a key element in the management and mitigation of both thermal and acoustic risks and currently unique for smaller NewSpace rocket pads.

“This 12m height and the design overall are made possible due to the positioning of the majority of pads at the ASC being as close to the edge of the escarpment upon which the spaceport is located as possible. Pushing the pads to these edges allows us to get the maximum safety spread of multiple pads as well as utilising the natural topography of the spaceport’s location, for the pad’s essential and unique technical requirements,” said Mr Jones.

The use of a large volume Environmental Capture Pond, or colloquially named “Baby’s Bath” with filter and return pumps is incorporated on every pad and is essential to capture and filter any residue from the launch and reuse any deluge water as part of the extensive layered environmental protection plan used at the ASC.

“Due to the heat and type of propellants used by modern rockets, the residue/effluent from launches is incredibly small, and when considering the number of launches from the ASC across a year the facility’s contribution to longer-term average concentrations of air pollutants will be negligible, nevertheless, we take this very seriously. We have been collecting water, soil and air samples over an expanded local area for more than two years now and will continue this monitoring and control process into the future”, Mr Jones said.

A Nitrogen based ‘Oxygen Purge System’ for fire control following a launch abort. This system automatically floods the area at the base of the rocket with nitrogen to purge oxygen and help reduce the risk of ‘slow rate’ fire. The provision of four automated and steerable fire cannons at the base of the pad area also assists in fire control and safety. The water for these cannons and the separate deluge reserves are from collected and stored rainwater.

“We are really proud of this pad design and in some ways, it is the centre piece of our commercial offering at the Arnhem Space Centre,” said Mr Jones. “Our in-house space technology and engineering team took my design concept and the user requirements which we have gathered over several years and have completed the design, analysis, construction, manufacturing plan and come up with a completed comprehensive design which we are really proud to release to the market. This is a game changer in the NewSpace launch market”.

Rocket Trolley

As a purpose-made, complimentary design to the advance launch pad, ELA will also soon complete and release the final design of its advanced Rocket Trolley. The Rocket Trolley is being designed to carry rockets up to 45m in length and up to 130,000kg in total mass (with strongback, base and Interface Plate connected) from the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at each Space Launch Complex (SLC) of the ASC to the launch pad. Most empty rockets in the small, medium range weigh less than 20 tonnes empty, however, multi booster solid fuel rockets can weight up to 100 tonnes.

The Rocket Trolley allows the rocket to be easily mated horizontally with the 90-degree Pivot Base and has been design to hydraulicly adjust the lateral and vertical position for precision loading and attachment of the Interface Plate with strong back attached to the Pivot Base of the pad.

A Complete Integrated Launch Pad Solution

The ASCALP was designed from the outset to be a comprehensive launch solution which allowed integration with each customer and to provide efficiency and cost-effective solution. Every customer at the ASC will use the ASCALP and in some cases additional elements of the clients launch system will be incorporated into the base ASCALP design.

“When we first introduced the ASCALP design to our customers we received some push-back – not every customer was at the same stage and had fully scoped their launch system. Others did, and so we had to do some work to convince them of the benefits and the need for both increased safety and also efficiency. We think we have achieved a pretty good situation now. At the end of the day, they are the customer, and the customer is always right, but our engineering systems and Launch Facility Licencing requirements dictate we have a very strong view of the integrated launch systems and a desire for commonality where practical, and this all translates to all things related to the launch process, so we have been, and still are, getting very involved with our clients launch engineering and mission plans. Our contract 100% supports this with a very detailed division and determination of responsibilities, and requirements for operating at the ASC,” said Mr Jones.

ELA is on a mission to be the pre-eminent multi-user commercial space launch company, providing world-class launch services supporting testing, launch and recovery of space vehicles and payloads flown to and from all space orbits. ELA owns and operates the Arnhem Space Centre (ASC), in East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. The proximity of the ASC to the equator (12 degrees south) offers rocket companies and their payload customers operational freedom and simplicity for their launch and mission design.

ASC Advance Launch Pad

Source: Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA)

A significant historic milestone has been achieved by SaxaVord Spaceport with the award of a licence by the Civil Aviation Authority. It becomes the first licensed vertical launch spaceport in the UK and Western Europe following extensive assessment by the space regulator to check that appropriate safety, security and environmental criteria are met, and that SaxaVord has suitable infrastructure, equipment and services to accommodate vertical space launches. CEO Frank Strang said: “The award of our spaceport licence is both historic for Shetland, Scotland and the UK and places us firmly at the leading edge of the European and global space economy.

“As importantly for me it is also a fantastic achievement by our Operations and Licencing Team led by Scott Hammond who have been working tirelessly alongside the CAA for almost three years to secure this award. “Our team is very proud that the Government has entrusted us with operating a complex, multi-disciplinary and multi-launch spaceport and we all take this responsibility very seriously. “There is much to do still but this is a fantastic way to end the year and head into Christmas.”

SaxaVord has a roster of clients including Rocket Factory Augsburg, HyImpulse, Lockheed Martin/ABL Systems and Skyrora. The spaceport licence puts Scotland at the forefront of the European launch market, with Scottish satellites already in space, and home-grown rocket companies breaking new ground.

There are a number of launch operators from around the world currently developing rockets to launch from SaxaVord who are currently at various stages of the assessment process with the Civil Aviation Authority. The not-too-distant future could see Scottish built rockets launching Scottish satellites from a Scottish spaceport. The licence permits SaxaVord to host up to 30 launches a year, allowing the spaceport to grow as the UK space sector continues to expand.

Tim Johnson, Director of Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Granting SaxaVord their licence is an era defining moment for the UK space sector. “This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland. “We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.”

Now that it is licensed SaxaVord will be subject to an ongoing monitoring programme by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure safety is maintained and the terms of its licence are not breached. This latest licence is the 352nd space activity approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since becoming the UK’s space regulator in July 2021. The regulator now monitors more than 750 different satellites, has licensed two spaceports, a launch from Cornwall, and the OneWeb constellation which is the second biggest satellite constellation in orbit.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “The United Kingdom’s space industry is growing, with SaxaVord set for lift off to become this country’s first vertical spaceport. “Today’s historic announcement will boost Shetland’s economy and put the United Kingdom at the forefront of spaceflight innovation.” This activity is supporting an ever-growing space industry estimated to be worth £17.5 billion and support 48,800 jobs, with over 2200 space companies based in the UK. The UK space sector is a rapidly expanding and vital part of the UK economy.

The licence also follows last week’s announcement of £3.4 million UK Space Agency funding for HyImpulse UK, a Shetland based launch company to undertake their Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme ahead of the proposed launch of their launch vehicle, named SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst. Matt Archer, Director of Launch, UK Space Agency said: “The granting of SaxaVord’s spaceport licence by the UK Civil Aviation Authority is a hugely exciting milestone as we look forward to the first vertical launches from UK soil in the coming year.

“Getting to this stage is testament to the hard work by SaxaVord Spaceport and partners across government which moves us towards realising our ambitions for the UK to be the leading provider of small satellite launch in Europe by 2030. “Establishing orbital launch capabilities in the UK is already bringing new jobs and investment opportunities to local communities as well as inspiring the next generation to join our growing space sector.”

Scottish Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead MSP said: “This milestone heralds a new era for space in Scotland. As the UK’s first licensed vertical spaceport, SaxaVord and Scotland can soon be a gateway to space, deploying cutting edge small satellites into orbit for international and domestic customers alike. “Space continues to be a great opportunity for Scotland; including for our economic development, the key role it plays in helping us fight the climate crisis and the power it has to inspire discovery and innovation in the next generation.

“The Scottish Government’s aim for Scotland to become a multi-billion pound industry and Europe’s leading space nation has taken a significant step towards becoming a reality. We will continue to build on our strengths that include an innovative and diverse engineering base and world-class companies competing in international markets.” SaxaVord is also establishing the Space Environment Climate Control Centre to drive a responsible attitude to climate and the environment. Known as SaxaZero, it will monitor the spaceport’s impact on the natural environment as well as push for innovation in space industry sustainability. SaxaZero will also promote the use of satellite data in conservation and by companies seeking to understand their impact on nature and lower costs and emissions.

Source: SaxaVord Spaceport

Two companies have secured over £6.7 million to develop their world-leading launch technologies in a sustainable way and help cement the UK’s position as Europe’s leading destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

The funding was awarded using UK Space Agency contributions to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme which aims to help companies develop world-leading space transportation services and bring them to market. Scottish-based HyImpulse, a launch company working with SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, Shetland, and Orbex, working with Sutherland Spaceport, on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, will each receive over £3 million to enable spaceflight activities from UK spaceports.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: We want the UK to become Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches, building on our expertise in satellite design. Pioneering innovations like building the world’s most eco-friendly space rocket signal our commitment to being at the forefront of the next generation of space technology, while raising our standing as a leader in space sustainability. Our funding alongside further private sector investment will enhance the work of our ambitious space sector while creating highly skilled jobs across the UK that grow our economy.

Orbex, an orbital launch services company based in Forres near Inverness, will receive over £3.3 million to undertake activities to ensure it is environmentally sustainable. This will include activities to install a green propellant plant to manufacture a clean propane produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant and vegetable waste material which will be used on-site. Sutherland Spaceport aims to be the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and operation. The launch site will become the long-term ‘home’ spaceport of Orbex and will see the launch of up to 12 orbital rockets per year of its reusable and environmentally friendly rocket Prime, which is powered by the renewable biofuel which will be manufactured on site.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise anticipate that Sutherland Spaceport will support around 613 full-time equivalent posts throughout the wider Highlands and Islands, including an estimated 44 full-time equivalent posts at the site itself. 

HyImpulse UK, based in Shetland, will receive nearly £3.4 million to undertake their Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme ahead of the proposed launch of their launch vehicle, named SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland. By 2030 HyImpulse aim to achieve carbon neutral operations including the use of synthesised paraffin fuel and using renewable energy sources. As a result of the funding, in partnership with Adamant Composites HyImpulse will also establish a new UK-based joint venture called Carbon Launch Systems, to manufacture their carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks. HyImpulse anticipate that their UK operations will support up to 200 direct jobs in Scotland and a further 1500 across the wider UK supply chain including in Shetland and at the spaceport.

Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UK Space Agency, said: Our investment in both Orbex and HyImpulse demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe’s leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies. These contracts will help Orbex to develop the launch site at Sutherland Spaceport and HyImpulse to prepare for their first launch from SaxaVord Spaceport, enhancing our launch capability, creating high skilled jobs and supporting the Government’s vision for the UK to be Europe’s most attractive launch destination by 2030. The UK invested £12 million into the Boost! programme in 2019, followed by another £12 million in 2022, one of the largest investments from ESA member states. Previous Boost! contracts were awarded to the companies in 2020 and 2021.

ESA’s head of Space Transportation strategy, Lucía Linares, said: Environmental aspects are moving more and more into the focus of space activities for the sustainable use of outer space. ESA supports Orbex in its aim to develop the most environmentally friendly launch system possible.

ESA’s Commercial Services Manager and Technical Officer for Boost!, Jørgen Bru, said: HyImpulse has made remarkable progress towards bringing hybrid propulsion to operations and ESA is dedicating further support to the orbital launch services under development.

Martin Coates, Chief Executive Officer, Orbex said: We would like to thank the UK Space Agency for awarding us this funding as part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme. Orbex Prime will be the world’s most environmentally friendly space rocket, and a single launch of the rocket will produce up to 96 per cent less carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. This new funding will allow us to undertake activities to build the Ultra-Green Launch Complex at Sutherland Spaceport, from where we look forward to providing the small satellite industry with an option to launch direct from the Europe.

Christian Schmierer, Co- Chief Executive Officer of HyImpulse, said: Commencing this next phase of orbital launch vehicle development, launching our first sounding rocket demonstrator and rapidly expanding our UK operation are very significant milestones for 2024. We have a long history of working with SaxaVord and conducting our motor testing in Shetland and look forward to this next phase of that relationship. We thank the UK Space Agency for this support, their enthusiasm and continued efforts to enable UK launch.

About HyImpulse

UK Ltd, Saxavord Spaceport and Carbon Launch Systems Ltd received ESA Boost! support to undertake the Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme and establish manufacturing for ultra-light carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks in the UK. This investment begins a step change in HyImpulse’s UK operations and will accelerate the strategic partnership with SaxaVord Spaceport towards commercial launch operations. Budget: £3,392,423 ESA Boost! funding with a view to catalysing HyImpulse’s launch vehicle, UK operations and partnership with SaxaVord Spaceport. Total investment £6,784,848 with 50% match funding from company sources.

About Orbex

Orbex received ESA Boost! support to undertake activities to undertake activities to to ensure it is environmental sustainability. This will include activities to install a green propellant plant to manufacture a clean propane produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant and vegetable waste material which will be used on-site. Budget £3,192,894 ESA Boost! funding. Total investment £6,385,788 with 50% match funding from company sources.

Source: UK Space Agency

European launch service company Isar Aerospace has established a partnership with Andøya Spaceport to launch small satellites from Andøya using Isar Aerospace’s Spectrum launch vehicle. Isar Aerospace is supported through ‘Boost!’ - ESA's programme to support the development, deployment and use of commercial space transportation services in Europe.

On 1 November ESA and Isar Aerospace, supported by Andøya Spaceport, signed a contract extension to develop an efficient new flight tracking and safety system for future rocket launches with Isar Aerospace’s Spectrum launch vehicle from Andøya.

The purpose of the autonomous flight tracking system is to precisely and reliably keeping track of the Spectrum launch vehicle’s position, speed and direction of travel as it ascends to orbit, which is important to guarantee Andøya Spaceport’s flight safety requirements. The objective is to further evaluate the use of the system in enabling automated flight termination functionality for launches by Andøya Spaceport’s ground system, autonomously triggering an abort of the mission if ever operational parameters of the launch vehicle are out of bounds.

Isar Aerospace

The Munich-based launch service company Isar Aerospace was founded in 2018 and has raised €310 million from private investors. The company has been supported by ESA’s Business Incubation Centre and Boost! contracts in 2020 and 2021. Isar Aerospace’s two-stage launch vehicle Spectrum will be around 28 m tall, 2 m in diameter and its ten engines will launch payloads of up to 1000 kg to low Earth orbit. Isar Aerospace is in the final stages of preparation towards its first test flight of Spectrum: having completed the system designs of its launch vehicle, it is now in the production phase of all parts of the rocket, including the flight engines.

Andøya Spaceport

Andøya Spaceport, located at Nordmela on the Norwegian island of Andøya, has finished construction of the first step of building: initial operation capability. The first launch from the new spaceport will be Isar Aerospace’s Spectrum for which the launch pad, payload integration facilities and launch- and mission control have been finalised. Andøya Space group has a long history in providing infrastructure for suborbital launches. Since 1962, around 1200 sounding rockets and high-altitude balloons have launched from here. With the recent opening, Andøya Spaceport is getting closer to becoming an operational orbital spaceport in continental Europe.

Source: ESA

More Articles …