10 May 2023

Cape York spaceport has backing across the globe

| Samuel Davis
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Space Centre Australia chief executive James Palmer says the Weipa spaceport is progressing well.

WAR in Ukraine is accelerating the UK’s interest in plans to build a spaceport in Cape York, Space Centre Australia’s chief executive says.

In March, British satellite company OneWeb suspended launches from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as the conflict erupted along the west Ukrainian border.

And while dozens of OneWeb spacecraft have since launched from the Kremlin-controlled facility, SCA’s chief executive James Palmer said countries and corporations are already looking to take their business elsewhere.

“There’s a very big gap in launch structure availability right now,” Mr Palmer said following meetings with the UK Space Agency and others in London last month.

“Because of the war in Ukraine, the Kazakhstan cosmodrome is effectively off limits.

“It’s taken away the ability for larger scale launches for them. The UK can’t have larger scale launch work because of where they’re located.

“But telcos, government, defence and communications based organisations all need the ability to have satellite services.”

The company is also preparing to open its first overseas office in Oxfordshire in December, Mr Palmer said.

“Our connection with the UK has been part of our strategic road map since day one,” the CEO told Cape York Weekly.

“We’ve been working with them for over a year now.

“These early talks are about ensuring the UK has future access to meet these demands to launch larger satellites and payloads.

“The meeting was successful and we’re all on the same page about the direction we need to be moving.”

SCA plans to achieve lift-off near Weipa by 2024.

Local consultancy group Ecotone will help SCA prepare its development applications and Environmental Impact Statements to the state and federal government over the coming months.

If approved, the proposed spaceport would only have small launch capabilities in its first few years before scaling up.

Further consultation with Traditional Owner groups regarding the spaceport’s location – around 43km east of Weipa – was held last week.

“We had a really good meeting with Mokwiri Aboriginal Corporation,” Mr Palmer said.

“We’ve also kicked off a lot of our environmental work and meetings with community members.”

International Director at the UK Space Agency, Sarah Boyall said the organisation would keep a close eye on SCA’s progress in the Cape.

“Like the UK, our colleagues in the Australian space sector have ambitious plans for commercial launch, and we are pleased to see that this includes collaborating with UK skills and expertise,” Ms Boyall said.

“As the UK-Australia Space Bridge partnership grows, we wish the SCA all the best in their new venture and look forward to opportunities to work together.”

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