Australia re-enters the space race

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South Australia’s west coast will roar with the sound of rocket launches this week, as start-up Southern Launch begins its test program with two sub-orbital rockets.

Southern Launch apparatus and model of DART. Credit: Southern Launch

It will be a significant moment for Australia’s space industry – the next chapter in a history of rocket launches extending over six decades. It’s also the first tests by Southern Launch, a private company founded in 2017 to establish a site in South Australia for orbital rocket launches.

The launch will take place near the Indigenous community of Koonibba, around 8 hours drive from Adelaide, where Southern Launch has established a testing range. Launching northwards, each rocket will be a Netherlands-designed 2-stage DART about 3.4 metres long and weighing 34 kilograms. In just 6 seconds of rocket burn they will scream to speeds of Mach 5. The test rockets won’t reach orbit, however, peaking around 85km above Earth.

They will be carrying a payload though – a miniature probe designed and built by DEWC Systems, an Australian electronic warfare engineering company. After reaching apogee, DEWC-SP1, as the payload has been dubbed, will descend to Earth under parachute. As it comes down, the package of antennas and sensors …

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