Both sides of politics want a launch site north of Airlie Beach but a Queensland rocket maker says the location poses too many problems
Both sides of politics want a launch site north of Airlie Beach but a Queensland rocket maker says the location poses too many problems

Doubts over new rocket site

LOOKING SKYWARD

It's not hard to see why Blake Nikolic (llustrated) is pumped up about shooting for the stars.

Since starting Black Sky Aerospace two years ago, he's already overseen the firing of rockets from his base in the Logan suburb of Jimboomba and runs the biggest manufacturing plant of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Nikolic, a former Army pilot who grew up with a fascination for fireworks, is now aiming to have his firm become the first privately-owned Australian rocket maker to get a vehicle 100km up and into space.

He's clearly part of a fast-expanding industry.

As demand for satellites and other commercial uses of space appear poised for enormous growth, the Australian Defence Force is also set to spend $65bn over the next decade on long-range rocket technology.

But Nikolic told an East Coast Forum luncheon in Brisbane on Tuesday that he has serious doubts about the viability of a proposed rocket launch site near Abbot Point, about 100km north of Airlie Beach. More on that below!

TAKING NOTICE

Space is suddenly a hot topic and you know that's the case because the pollies have finally perked up and taken notice.

Sure, the late Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen pushed for the development of a space launch facility at Cape York in 1986 but that went nowhere at the time, with many dismissing it then as fanciful nonsense.

Not anymore. Queensland's space sector, which already supports more than 2000 jobs and generates $760m for businesses across the state, seems to be on the cusp of a great leap forward.

Just last week Opposition leader Deb Frecklington committed $15m to build a launch facility near Abbot Point if she triumphs in next month's election.

LNP Leader Deb Frecklington and Gilmour Space Technologies co-founder and CEO Adam Gilmour announce a $15 million election commitment to build a rocket launch site near Abbot Point
LNP Leader Deb Frecklington and Gilmour Space Technologies co-founder and CEO Adam Gilmour announce a $15 million election commitment to build a rocket launch site near Abbot Point

The government-owned site, forecast to create 100 jobs during construction and another 200 permanent roles, would be anchored by Gold Coast-based outfit Gilmour Space Technologies. That firm claims that it's on track to launch Australia's first satellite in 2022 on its Eris orbital rocket.

"Our investment will create new markets for Queensland in industries like advanced manufacturing, aerospace, defence, mining, technology and tourism,'' Frecklington said.

"Globally, space is a multi-trillion-dollar industry and the LNP's investment will help make Queensland a major player."

Frecklington's concrete plan follows the State Government's somewhat more timid announcement in late July that it would merely start consultation on a proposed rocket launch facility around Abbot Point. It's part of an $8m "space industry strategy'' from now to 2025.

PROBLEMATIC

But Nikolic said Abbott Point is hugely problematic because of its proximity to busy corridors for both airlines and shipping, as well as the Great Barrier Reef. He predicted that getting insurance for the frequent firing of rockets would be extremely difficult.

Pointing to the danger of mishaps and the need for frequent stoppages of traffic during launches, he seemed extremely sceptical about the site's viability.

"It's probably never going to happen,'' he told guests squeezed into the cellar room of the Port Office Hotel.

A much better location, he explained, would be in the far north of the Cape York Peninsula (ironically, the area favoured by Joh!) because it avoids those transport and reef complications.

Regardless of which area finally gets the nod, Queensland is already playing catch up. Both South Australia and the Northern Territory are nearing operational readiness for their launch sites.

Still, forecasts suggest that Queensland's capabilities and location could help the space sector support up to 6000 jobs and contribute between $3.5bn and $6bn to the state's economy by 2036.

Our version of NASA, the newly-created Australian Space Agency, aims to triple the size of the nation's space economy to $12bn by 2030. It could see the creation of up to 20,000 jobs.

The growth trajectory is consistent with global trends.

The world's space industry, worth a whopping $US345bn, is three-quarters driven by the private sector. It's tipped to triple in value by 2040.

Originally published as Doubts over new Qld rocket site



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