Gilmour’s Eris rocket now assembled and ready for launch from Bowen spaceport in Australia

Australian commercial spaceports
Click for original map.

The Austrialia rocket starup Gilmour has now assembled its first Eris rocket in anticipation of its first orbital test launch from that company’s Bowen spaceport on the east coast of Australia.

According to the report at the link, the launch could happen “in the coming weeks,” though no date has been set. Gilmour has already received its spaceport license from the Australian government, but has not yet gotten its launch license from the Australian Space Agency, despite putting in its application two years ago.

It appears there is now a race between this spaceport and the one on the south coast run by Southern Launch to launch first. Both are saying they will launch in mere weeks, but both are also awaiting launch approvals from the Australian Space Agency, which appears to be having difficulties making these first approvals. Either it is dragging its feet, or doesn’t know how to do this yet. Hopefully the bureaucrats will figure out how to say yes to freedom and let these spaceports and companies finally launch, before they run out of cash.

Australian rocket startup gets government approval for its spaceport

Proposed Australian commercial spaceports

The Australian rocket startup Gilmour Space has now received a spaceport licence from the Australian government, allowing launches to occur from its Bowen spaceport on the northeast coast of Australia, as shown on the map to the right.

The company describes the approval from [Ed Husic Federal Minister for Industry and Science], who is also the minister in charge of the Australian Space Agency, as a vote of confidence in Gilmour’s technical capability, paving the way for the launch of Australia’s first sovereign-made rockets, ‘bridging Country to Sky’. Gilmour Space has also secured approval from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, enabling the operation of the spaceport at Abbot Point.

Not all is unicorns and rainbows however. First, it appears Gilmour began negotiating for this approval two years ago, so the government took a looong time to say yes. The other spaceport on the map has been awaiting for a launch license for about the same length of time, and has still not gotten it.

Gilmour also wants to do its first test launch of its Eris rocket in the next few months, but it is still awaiting its launch license from the Australian Space Agency. We are therefore about to find out whether Australia’s government can issue that permit in the next few months, or will instead emulate Great Britain, and bog things down with endless red tape.

Australian rocket startup raises $36 million in private investment capital

Proposed Australian commercial spaceports

The Australian rocket startup Gilmour Space has now raised $36 million in private investment capital in its most recent fund-raising round. The company had previously raised $46 million.

The funding supports the small launch vehicle startup’s campaign to manufacture, test and begin launching rockets and satellites from the Bowen Orbital Spaceport in North Queensland.

Gilmour Space, founded in 2012, is developing a three-stage rocket called Eris. The first Eris test flight is expected “in the coming months, pending launch approvals from the Australian Space Agency,” according to the Gilmour Space news release. A second test flight is expected later this year and commercial launches are scheduled to begin in 2025. [emphasis mine]

The map to the right shows both the location of Gilmour’s Bowen launch site, but also that of Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), which is building a spaceport open to all rocket companies.

Gilmour had originally announced plans for an April 2023 launch. Though it is not surprising for a new rocket company to experience delays in developing a new rocket, the highlighted phrase in the quote above, which has appeared in a previous story in September 2023 about the delays at Gilmore, strongly suggests Australia’s government might be a problem as well. Its legal framework is strongly influcenced by Great Britain’s, which has turned out to be a nightmare for both rocket companies and spaceports. That approvals have been pending now for many months is further evidence this is so.

Suborbital rocket company has launch failure

Capitalism in space: Gilmour Space Technologies, one of the numerous new rocket companies aimed at capturing the emerging smallsat market, experienced a launch failure on July 29 just prior to lift-off of its suborbital rocket.

At T-7 seconds to launch, the test rocket suffered an anomaly that resulted in the premature end of the mission. Initial investigations show that a pressure regulator in the oxidiser tank had failed to maintain the required pressure, and this caused the upper half of the rocket to be ejected as helium escaped.

On the positive side, there were no explosions due to the safe nature of hybrid rocket engines, and no observable damage to the engine. (The white plume seen here is steam.) Moreover, despite failure to launch, the team did successfully test Gilmour Space’s mobile launch platform and mission control centre, which had journeyed over 1,800 km to the test site.

It appears the failure was from a piece of equipment provided by an outside contractor.

Another smallsat rocket company enters the market

Capitalism in space: A new Australian smallsat rocket company, Gilmour Space Technologies, has successfully test fired a new hybrid rocket engine.

This orbital-class rocket engine, developed by Australia and Singapore-based Gilmour Space Technologies (, has successfully achieved 70,000 newtons (70 kilonewtons or 15,700 pounds-force) of thrust in what could be the world’s largest successful test fire of a single-port hybrid rocket engine. “These results prove that we have the core technology needed to enable low-cost small satellite launches to space,” said its CEO & Founder, Adam Gilmour. The company’s mission: to carry payloads weighing up to 400 kg to low earth orbit (LEO) from 2020.

Unlike the vast majority of commercial rockets today, which use either solid- or liquid-fuelled engines, Gilmour Space is pioneering new hybrid-engine rockets that combine a liquid oxidiser with a proprietary multi-material 3D printed solid fuel. Indeed, the Queensland-based company first made headlines in 2016 when it successfully test launched a subscale rocket to an altitude of 5km using its 3D printed rocket fuel.

The static fire test, which can be seen in a video at the link, was very short, less than 10 seconds. Since one of the big problems of hybrid engines has been to get them to fire smoothly and precisely for long periods of time, I remain skeptical. They might have some good engineering here, but I don’t yet see the makings of a rocket.

Hat tip Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc.