Australia and the U.S. agree to facilitate rocket launches in Australia

A technology agreement announced on October 25, 2023 between Australia and the U.S. included language that will allow for American rocket companies to launch from Australia, as well as Australian rocket companies to launch American satellites.

According to the White House statement, the agreement…

…provides the legal and technical framework for U.S. commercial space launch vehicles to launch from Australia in a manner that: protects sensitive U.S. launch technology and data in Australia consistent with our shared nonproliferation goals; and creates the potential for new space-related commercial opportunities.

A private Australian spaceport, Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), has been working to bring U.S. launches there. In addition, an Australian rocket startup, Gilmour Space, wants to launch American payloads. This new government agreement is supposed to facilitate both.

Commercial spaceport in Australia signs its first launch contract

Australia map showing ELA spaceport location
The red dot marks ELA’s location, on the north coast of Australia.

Australia’s first commercial spaceport, Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), has signed a multi-launch contract with a South Korean startup rocket company, Innospace, with the first launch targeting April 2025.

Though Innospace successfully launched a suborbital test flight in March, it has not yet launched a rocket to orbit. Meanwhile, ELA is negotiating with a number of other rocket companies, but it also appears it is having problems with the administrative state in the U.S.

The South Korean company is first off the blocks as it is not subject to the strict technological transfer regulations applied by the United States.

[ELA’s CEO Michael] Jones says delays to the signing of a Technological Safeguards Agreement (TSA) between Canberra and Washington is holding up several potential US customers. “We’re still waiting with bated breath for the TSA, despite a bilateral announcement by Biden and Albanese in Japan in early June that the deal was done and dusted,” he explains. “We were all expecting it to be released by the end of the financial year and the process of being endorsed by Parliament begun”.

A pattern of delay and intransigence in Washington, blocking commercial space, does seem to be developing since Joe Biden took over as president.

Local tribe signs deal for Australian spaceport

Capitalism in space: An aboriginal tribe tribe in Australia has signed a lease with a new space company proposing to build a spaceport on their land where smallsat rockets can launch.

The Northern Land Council has granted a 275-hectare lease in northeast Arnhem Land to the Gumatj clan for use as a commercial rocket launching facility. That’ll pave the way for Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation to sublease the site to Equatorial Launch Australia, a firm whose $236 million space base proposal is being considered by federal and NT infrastructure funds.

The 12-year lease has an option for a 28-year extension, and is expected to be finalised later this month.

This is the first I have ever heard of Equatorial Launch Australia. Their website provides little information. Further web searches revealed little as well. My impression is that it is focused on creating a spaceport for the use of new Australian smallsat rocket companies. Whether it plans to launch its own rocket is unclear.