Koonibba rocket launch blasts Australia into new era of space exploration

It was a case of the second time being the charm as Australia's first commercial, space-capable rocket launch from the Koonibba Test Range went according to plan on Saturday.

Southern Launch's test from the far west of South Australia, 40 kilometres from Ceduna, saw Australia blast into a new era of space exploration.

After a misfire on Tuesday ruined the first attempt, systems were checked and tested in subsequent days to ensure a successful launch this morning.

The company conducted two tests, both to a height of about 85 kilometres, with a payload attached.

The first went off just after 10am ACST and the second close to noon ACST, in front of another big crowd gathered at the viewing area.

Company chief executive officer Lloyd Damp said he and the team were "over the moon" with the launches, after spending recent days identifying issues with the first attempt.

"We are so excited to have this great outcome in Koonibba," he said.

"We followed standard engineering practice - try to identify what went wrong and how we can then make sure that same issue doesn't resurface.

"The team over in the Netherlands, T-Minus Engineering, did tests of the igniters to identify whether it was a manufacturing fault or if it was a once-off and everything pointed to a once-off fault. We did some little modifications and you see the great result with not one, but two launches."

Mr Damp said the company would continue to work closely with the Koonibba community as they conducted more tests with the full-scale launch at Whalers Way near Port Lincoln expected sometime next year.

"One of the biggest things we did from the outset was to ensure the Koonibba community was involved in all the operations at the test range so in the past week-and-a-half we have employed 16 local residents," he said.

"We are committed to contributing back into the local community as well as to ensure the operations we do are with them.

"We are hoping to have a couple of tests every year, enough that we can test our specific components of satellites, and help companies prepare their rocket vehicles before they move down to Whalers Way."

Attached to the rocket was a payload of a hi-tech electronic warfare prototype that can detect radar signals, with the launch allowing DEWC Systems to conduct frequency sensing tests.

DEWC chief executive officer Ian Spencer said it was fantastic to have two successful launches.

He said this would hopefully be the start of a bright future for the company, defence and the space industry in South Australia.

"It is exciting to be part of it. We have worked at it for a little while with Lloyd and the guys from Southern Launch, and the T-Minus Engineering guys to get this done and it is such a relief to have such a good day and have it work so well on both occasions," he said.

"This is the first step that needed to be taken. I have come together with some fantastic people who have made it happen and we are very excited to take this further and develop our technologies."

Among those at the launch was independent South Australian Senator Rex Patrick. He was excited about what the launch can mean for the future of the industry.

He said he expected South Australia to have "great success" in the space industry.

"Lots of things have to come together to make this sort of thing work. This is a mix of co-operation from industry, government and the community, and it was fantastic to see," he said.

"This is a growth industry. There is huge opportunity for Australia, and South Australia in terms of economic activity and jobs.

"We are in an ideal place to launch vehicles into space and we need to capitalise on that and maximise all the benefits we can get from it."

Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation chief executive officer Corey McLennan said the event had put the town on the map.

Now, people all over Australia have heard about us and the Koonibba community," he said.

"Our children now dream of being astronauts, rocket scientists and helicopter pilots - the helicopter rides that DEWC Systems organised for the children and adults is something that they would never have experienced or dream of doing were it not for this launch.

"It has brought so much hope to Koonibba and the surrounding communities."

Senator Patrick said the only blot was that the rocket could not launch to a height of 101kms because the company did not receive a permit in time from the Australian Space Agency (ASA) to fire that high.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which authorises launches up to 100km, provided the permit in three months.

He said it was a case of "bureaucratic bungling" and that the Australian Space Agency needed a good shake up.

"The commercial space sector is dynamic and competitive and requires an outcome-focussed government support agency," Mr Patrick said.

"Instead the agency has induced hesitation amongst potential international customers or Australian space services."

The ASA said it was working with Southern Launch on the applications.

"The Australian Space Agency is working closely with Southern Launch on their applications for the launch facility and launch activity at the Koonibba Test Range, including providing advice to support the completion of its applications under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018," the spokesperson said.

"The obligation remains with Southern Launch to demonstrate that it meets these requirements.

"The agency will continue to work closely with Southern Launch as its applications are further developed and completed."