by Robert Brand. It is clear that Australia needs a Space Agency and the Agency needs to help establish an Australian Spaceport. Given that it is only a matter of time I am very interested in Spaceport Darwin!
What is a Spaceport?
The Oxford dictionary simple states: a base from which spacecraft are launched.
These days, with spacecraft returning to earth for reuse and also for winged spacecraft, the definition must also include landing so a modern definition would be: a base from which spacecraft are launched and landed.
Port Stephens in the Northern Territory of Australia, would seem to make an ideal spaceport. I believe that the land is mainly Crown Land on a perpetual lease to the Northern Territory Land Corporation. There are no buildings on the point and the land appears to be available for development. A gravel road is the only way of getting close to the site and it may currently be unpassable during the wet season. The wet season tends to cause major access problems without high dry road access. Luckily the road traverses only high land, but the rain can make this road impossible to travel. If development starts, the road would need to be sealed from Darwin and also new roadways within the complex.
For those wanting to take a better look, it is on Google Earth and it is the land to the south east of Gunn Point NT Australia:
-12.180 Latitude and 131.160 longitude.
The land is 19km north to south and up to 11km east to west at the furthermost points.
In the picture to the right, I have outlined (in red) some areas suitable to launch. It would be ideally suited to an equatorial orbit and possibly a polar orbit. It should also be suited to a sounding rocket launch with a forward landing spot. There are few places that a space port should and can be built. There have been several false starts with Great Barrier Reef concerns and major land rights groups forming a huge lobby in Cape York. Inland sites tend to have severe restrictions on large launches because of the risks of launching over land and an population.
Australia does have Woomera, but it is inland and has massive issues for launching anything other than sounding rockets (straight up and down). Launching over water offers a way lower risk and the cost of insurance. Woomera’s costs are very high at the moment. Commercial launch sites are more competitive. The nearest large town is a day’s travel.
Any launch site needs to be capable of growing with the needs of the site and I expect that this proposed site should be able to grow to 4 launch pads for the future. Obviously it will start small, and grow with the need for local space services.
What Makes a Good Spaceport?
What are the important requirements of a Spaceport. This is not a spaceport for space tourism, but it could easily be included. We are looking at a serious launch facility in this proposal. The possibility exists to launch multistage rockets from this site. So as a launch facility, what essentials or important items do we need?:
- In a country with financial stability.
- In a country with political stability.
- In a country with geological stability.
- In a country with a well educated workforce.
- Clear path to the east (equatorial orbit).
- Clear Path to the north or South (polar orbit).
- A safe distance from any public building or public road (8Km from launch pad).
- Fresh Water. Lots of it.
- Short distance to a major town.
- Road, train, air and port facilities near by.
- Ability to isolate the area for launches.
- Construction work force.
- Operational work force.
- In town fabrication.
- Land ahead capability for sounding rocket flights.
- Close to the equator for equatorial flights.
- Expansion for future launch pads
- Private launch facilities / launch pads
- 5km or longer runway a possibility.
- Substantial power services.
- Calm water in the launch area
- A substantial distance from any airport
- A substantial distance from town for safety reasons.
There are way more requirements or “should haves” like fuel handling facilities, but the ones above are a great start. Let’s see how Spaceport Darwin shapes up.
Essentially we have a green light on all of the above points. The only issue is the need for road works once the site becomes operational.
There are issues with the northerly launch, with a tight flight path between some islands. There is land only to the south.
Another benefit is the local waters to the east are only about 10m to 15m deep. This is well within normal scuba diving capability (usually 27m depth max for sports diving). Recovery of rocket components that may parachute to the water can easily be recovered.
A large observation area for the general public can be placed on the southern end of the complex Launch days attract many people that want to get close to the launch of a major space vehicle – even a small launch. It is essential to keep people 5Km from any launch. The launch pad should be 8Km away from public property. All of this is a green light for Spaceport Darwin.
There is a small national park to the east only a 10km kilometres away. It is small and only 8km wide. Human access is only by boat. Another small piece of land is crossed by any spacecraft launched to orbit and it is 170Km to the east. Most rockets will be in space or near to space by that time and the land is sparsely populated. This is perfect for a sounding rocket flight with a winged glider returning from space. There is even a sealed runway at Oenpelli Airport. This is 200Km distance from the launch site at 95 degree bearing and within gliding distance for a landing. The rocket would land in Van Diemen Gulf.
Electric power is not far away and fresh water is readily available from underground sources and large tanks can be filled over time before any launch. Water recovery following a launch is also possible.
There is plenty more to look at and assess, but Spaceport Darwin has a lot of positives and with operations cost being 60% or more for a launch, having local staff living in Darwin with a short drive each day is very attractive. Below is the Van Diemens Gulf map. Note most flights are likely to be in space or close to space as they pass over the land to the east. The population density is extremely low.
Spaceport Darwin Benefits
Spaceport Darwin will:
- Attract high tech staff to the area
- Increase local tourism
- Improve unemployment figures
- Create innovation in the region
- Attract foreign companies and investment
- Improve roads and services
- Focus attention on the region as a global Space Hub
- Have a 5km runway in the region for emergencies once fully operational.
- Be a space tourism launch and landing site.
This discussion will continue over time. Please leave your comments about this site.
– and yes, there are crocodiles!