NASA chooses Woomera, South Australia for rocket launch site

Monday, August 21, 2006

International Space Station. Photo taken from shuttle Discovery in August 2005

NASA has announced that rockets will be launched from Woomera in outback South Australia to service the International Space Station (ISS) — starting in 2008. NASA has selected two American companies to launch rockets from the Woomera base. Rocket Plane Kistler and Space-X will conduct orbital flight tests and commercial operations. The Woomera site would also be used to launch cargo such as fuel and food to the ISS as often as every two weeks.

Woomera, named for an Aboriginal spear-throwing tool, was originally involved in testing of long-range missiles and rockets for Britain during the Cold War. The site was also recently used by the Australian government to incarcerate asylum-seeking refugees.

SpaceX based in California, and Rocketplane-Kistler of Oklahoma City, will share up to $US500 million in NASA seed money to develop their launch vehicles. NASA has stated it wants commercial firms to take over ISS transportation services after the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

SpaceX, owned by Internet entrepreneur and PayPal founder Elon Musk, made its launch debut in March with the Falcon 1 rocket but the vehicle failed shortly after lift-off. The two companies secured the NASA contract to demonstrate its "commercial orbital transportation services". Kistler has scheduled the first launch of its K-1 rocket from Woomera in late 2008.

Woomera, South Australia

Kistler said work on a $100 million launch site at Woomera was expected to start in October. The site should be completed by the end of next year. Kistler Woomera chairman Alan Evans said the contract meant "hundreds of jobs" would be created within the aerospace industry in South Australia. "The jobs will be within the high-level end of the spectrum of the space industry, which is great news for the state," he said.

K-1 will have crew transportation capabilities, meaning the Woomera site could see astronauts leave from Australia. The site may also be used to transport satellites into space for telecom companies and defence organisations. The K-1 launch vehicle is designed to be re-used 100 times. It is powered by liquid-propellant engines and lands back on Earth with the help of parachutes and airbags.

"Woomera was chosen because it can be used for polar and equatorial launches and because of its clean land areas," Mr Evans said. "Kistler has already spent US$700 million developing this idea."

Rocketplane Kistler say their K-1 launch system will also provide low cost space access for satellites and research payloads. Their sub-orbital XP Spaceplane is 50% complete, and scheduled for first flight in late 2008. The K-1’s hardware is 75% complete — and is scheduled for first flight in 2008.


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