back to article Trump's America looks like a lousy launchpad, so can you dig Darwin?

At some point over the last fortnight, watching the second launch countdown in as many weeks via YouTube livestream, it became clear the Second Space Age - as promised by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson - had become entirely real. The promised land of cheap(er) commercial payload launches has come to pass. Even if …

  1. Neoc

    If it's closeness to the equator they want, North Queensland was already mooted as a spaceport quite a while back (and it's closer).

  2. lglethal Silver badge

    It's been looked at before, but its never been financially feasible...

    I wish it wasnt the case, but it really isnt financially feasible to Launch from Aus.

    The main Problem is who is going to be your customer? China, India and Japan have their own facilities, as do the Europeans the Russians and the Yanks. South East Asia (and Australia) arent planning to boost any major satellites, so you are basically relegated to launching CubeSats and the like from universities.

    And the reason that CubeSats are piggybacked on the bigger payloads is that it is currently not financially viable to launch just CubeSats on a rocket. There are designs out there for some of the Euro rockets (Vega and Ariane) that would let them carry more CubeSats in one go, but they've never launched with just CubeSats because it's just not economically feasible.

    This idea to build a Launch base in Northern Australia comes around every 10 years or so - last time it was Cape York. But every time, in the end, the economics just doesnt work out. I wish anyone who wants to give it a try luck, but I have my doubts it will ever be economically feasilbe. At least until Aus and SE Asia start getting involved in the space business in a more dedicated way...

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: It's been looked at before, but its never been financially feasible...

      It kinda depends. AFAIK the Ariane launchers are manufactured in France and shipped to French Guyana (apologies for spelling if wrong). Could be shipped elsewhere.

      So the Australians would have to 1) be attractive to someone who has a shippable rocket, or 2) give them a good reason to manufacture it in Australia.

      1) sounds easier, I suggest tax breaks, etc.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AFAIK, being close to the equator play a role only for a subset of orbits - those which require an equatorial orbit (i.e. geostationary ones, which also require more speed), or for "deep space" missions, which also require more speed, and anyway are going to happen close to the ecliptic. Satellites sent to other orbits, i.e. polar ones, have other needs.

    1. Dabooka

      Thanks for that

      I did wonder why the BBC ran a story last month (?) about Prestwick becoming the Scottish Cape Canaveral as it were.

      I did wonder if it was just political blustering ahead of Brexit / Scottish referendum, and what not

      1. smithwr101


        There has been a discussion in the last few years or so about using one of the Scottish airfields for air launch to orbit systems - pre Brexit/ Indyref v2. Prestwick has a long runway, built for B707 era transatlantic flights and hangerage for that sort of activity. There are other airports in consideration such as Machrihansih on Kintire which has a hugh runway (it was to be used as a Space Shuttle transatlantic abort site had the shuttle got to the planned launch frequency of every week or so.) Also ex-RAF stations at Kinloss, and Leuchurs.

        There aren't too many suitable runways south of the border that haven't been grubbed up -- such as Greenham Common.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Prestwick

          Hmmm, don't know about Scotland.

          1) There are many things that Scotland is famous for, but clear skies are not one of them.

          2) Within a couple hundred miles, you start passing over fairly heavily populated territory. I like Copenhagen, and it would be a shame if it got showered with rocket debris. I'm sure Oslo and Stockholm are very nice too.

          3) Pretty far north, so very little escape velocity boost

          I'd think that if you wanted to have British launch complex, the British Virgin Isles or another British Caribbean island or Guyana would be a better bet.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      You also need a reasonable body of unoccupied territory (an ocean does quite well for this) in the direction of launch...

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Launch Direction

        Launch direction is usually to the east, except for polar orbits etc.

        Israel has to launch towards the west, though long ago they hoped to use South Africa. The people ruling SA then had rather different motives.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " [...] still use the same rocket engines they developed in the 1960s. If it ain’t broke ..."

    Any technology that stays stable for too long is in danger of losing the expertise that made its development possible. Further progress then becomes difficult.

    1. MonkeyCee

      Fuel + oxidizer = thrust

      The development has, in my limited understanding of scary chemicals, come around full circle to using essentially the same fuel mix as the original designs. For the part where you're going through atmosphere liquid oxygen and kerosene is highly effective and very safe. Safe compared to pretty much everything else suitable, and there's obviously a fair bit of engineering going into making all go bang at the right time in the right direction.

      For the parts outside atmosphere, I know about as much as wikipedia does. Liquid oxygen and hydrogen apparently.

      But doing it the same way for years when you've got a highly effective solution is usually a Good Thing when it's as error tolerant as a rocket.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Fuel + oxidizer = thrust

        If you look around you should find:

        Its an informal history of the development of liquid rocket fuels. It is an eye-opener of a read for anyone with interest and even a basic grasp of chemistry. Some of they stuff their considered and even tried just beggars belief! But given the original goal was to deliver terminal global nuclear destruction to the Earth I doubt the toxicity or handling problems were very high on the agenda of the day...

        (Note the PDF won't show correctly in Firefox but looks OK in evince or probably other PDF readers of your choice)

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Fuel + oxidizer = thrust

          Brilliant book - sufficiently technical to be interesting, but with enough back story and humour (which seems to have been a requirement of those working the industry) to make it a good read if you can't deal with the chemistry.

          1. Stoneshop

            A memorable sample

            Brilliant book - sufficiently technical to be interesting, but with enough back story and humour

            "It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that's the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water —with which it reacts explosively."

            (on Chlorine Trifluoride, ClF3. Hypergolic == self-igniting)

      2. Steve the Cynic

        Re: Fuel + oxidizer = thrust

        " as error tolerant as a rocket"

        Seems to me that you meant to say "*intolerant*" here.

        1. Stoneshop

          Re: Fuel + oxidizer = thrust

          Seems to me that you meant to say "*intolerant*" here.

          It seems to me that your irony detector is in need of some rocket surgery,

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fuel + oxidizer = thrust

        It didn't go "full circle". The lack of advanced expertise forced to get back to simpler technologies. The Saturn V could use fewer larger but very powerful engines (five for the first/second stage, one for the third) - and worked. The Russian attempt to build a rocket with too many engines (for lack of more powerful ones) failed - it was too difficult to coordinate all of them, back then. Today electronics can help, but still you have more failure points. Still, it's simpler to design and build smaller rockets. How much that can scale, we'll see...

        Liquid hydrogen is far more complex to handle (and creates lots of problems to materials too), but for higher orbits and deep space missions it's difficult to do without. Some upper stages use different fuel, but they are not as powerful as the Centaur, for example. Centaur itself is a design of the '60s, and only now a replacement is being designed.

    2. WonkoTheSane

      "Any technology that stays stable for too long is in danger of losing the expertise that made its development possible. Further progress then becomes difficult."

      Especially if the gubmint responsible decides to shred the blueprints instead of archiving them. #ProjectApollo

  5. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    the European Space Agency launches from French Guiana,

    Not at the moment they don't. The whole country's called a general strike. Flights cancelled, no fuel deliveries to the airport, Kourou space centre is closed. Might be useful to have a backup location where the French national sport isn't so popular.

  6. Adam 1

    i hope this goes ahead and that there is a big explosion on launch

    ... just for the NT News headline.

    1. Dave 126

      Re: i hope this goes ahead and that there is a big explosion on launch

      Nursing Times? Well, I guess a big explosion might impact upon medical staff.

      Oh, Northern Territories, I guess?

      1. Adam 1

        Re: i hope this goes ahead and that there is a big explosion on launch

        Apologies for the buzzfeed link but you get the gist.

  7. Warm Braw

    Based on location and nominative determinism...

    ... Ascension Island sounds like a candidate.

    Getting the necessary materials there may be more of a challenge.

    1. WonkoTheSane

      Re: Based on location and nominative determinism...

      Ascencion also has a five-mile long runway, as it was designated an emergency landing strip for the Space Shuttle.

      Antonov 226 / Airbus Beluga might go a long way to bringing supplies in.

    2. Paul_Murphy

      Re: Based on location and nominative determinism...

      A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

  8. Mage Silver badge


    * Near Equator

    * On an Eastern coast

    * One of the more sane African countries

    * Has a disused "space port"

    I tried counting sites that had ever been used for launches to space, orbital activities, ICBMs and ICBM/rocket tests. The number is very high.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Kenya?

      I think Panama would be a better choice. A bit more stable, centrally located, close to the Equator...

  9. David Harper 1

    Cubesats == more space junk

    Am I the only one thinking that cubesats are basically the next generation of space junk? They are small enough that they will not show up on NORAD's space junk radar, and they are unable to actively maintain their orbit, but an impact with a structure like the ISS would be devastating.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Cubesats == more space junk

      If put in low 250-350km-ish orbits they won't be up for so log to cause a junk problem.

      Sadly many are in the 600-800km altitude range where they will be for decades or longer :(

  10. tony2heads

    Why not Equador

    As far as launch sites go, why not Ecuador:

    - on the equator

    - plenty of high ground (=less air to go through)

    - has petrochemical industry

    - US $ as currency

    also note: Chimborazo is the furthest point on the earth's surface from the centre of the earth (not Everest , because of the equatorial bulge)

    1. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

      Re: Why not Equador

      I think Ecuador, and other "sane" Latin American countries near the equator (Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia...) are not such good options, being way too active geologically. Not sure what a 6+ earthquake, or a shower of volcanic ash can do to a rocket, but it can't be good.

  11. Daedalus

    Who needs sites?

    If all you're launching is cubesats, Orbital ATK Pegasus launched from under an ex-airliner is just the ticket. Over 400 kg to LEO, no expensive launch pads, launch from the time and place of your choosing.

    However such technology is so threatening to the US that Orbital is on a short leash and only launches Pegasus every couple years. If you can get to LEO from anywhere you can launch against the USA from anywhere, anytime, and for a price well within the budgets of some nasty people. Too bad.

  12. Sgt_Oddball
    Paris Hilton

    and I'm just here...

    Waiting to hear when LOHAN will get launched

  13. Geeclectic

    Rocket Labs - New Zealand's space program is alive and well!

    A small company in little 'ol New Zealand, Rocket Labs, is planning to launch its first commercial sat later this year, making it the second commercial entity to place a satellite into orbit after SpaceX. All the best to OZ, but as usual, NZ is seriously punching above it's weight ;)

    They have been granted consent for a launch (from Mahia Peninsula, NZ) every 72 hours for 30 years, although I don't think they will be launching quite that often ... but who knows, considering so much of the Rutherford Engine is 3D printed (electron beam melting) and that they now have a shiny new contract with NASA ... I guess the sky's the limit (ahem).

    Mahia is a fair distance form the equator, but they are selling 150 kg payloads to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit (orbital inclinations from sun-synchronous through to 39 degrees).

    Besides, Mahia is a far better launch site than Darwin. Darwin is just too damn hot, has too many flies, and no Hobbits *anywhere* ...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Err, Woomera ?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Came here to say exactly that, but you beat me to it.

      Blast off at Woomera is what got an 11 year old me interested in SF, space, astronpmy and science in general.

      1. russsh

        Leccy in South Australia is a bit unreliable. Also to do with selling off natural resources overseas that we really shoudn't.

  15. Rattus Rattus

    It doesn't involve digging up bits of the country and selling it overseas for bargain basement prices, therefore it will never happen under a Coalition government.

    1. EnviableOne

      Its more about digging up bits of the country and sending it into space (with other countries paying for it)

      I have always thought a resurrection of Black ARROW project launched from Woomera would make a cheap Satellite launch system. Yet another UKGOV project cancelled just before it became useful.

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