10 May 2023

Race is on to build Cape York spaceport

| Matt Nicholls
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Space Centre Australia CEO James Palmer tells a packed room at the Cairns Regional Council his plans of building a spaceport near Weipa.

OPTIMISTIC businessman James Palmer has told a Cairns audience that rockets could be launching from a Weipa spaceport by 2026.

This is despite a large number of roadblocks in his way, including a lack of guaranteed finance and the required environmental approvals, plus a signed lease agreement with Traditional Owners.

Mr Palmer’s Space Centre Australia has identified an uncleared section of land around 45km east of Weipa, around 22km from RAAF Base Scherger.

That land is currently under the jurisdiction of the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council, which is in the process of transferring the title to Mokwiri Aboriginal Corporation, the Registered Native Title Body Corporation.

Sources told Cape York Weeklythat the transfer wouldn’t happen until later this year.

That’s likely to cause problems for Mr Palmer, who told the Cairns audience – there to listen to his plans for a Far North Queensland space industry – that he plans to develop an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with Mokwiri this year, as well as submit environmental applications.

“It’s going to be hard because he can’t even get proper access to the land because there is no ILUA in place,” the source said.

“Without access, you can’t do a cultural heritage survey and you can’t get the environmental impact assessment done.”

However, Mr Palmer said he was confident he would get the approvals in place to ensure Cape York was at the forefront of the Australian space industry.

Mr Palmer told Cape York Weekly that he understood the challenges ahead.

“You’re right, there is a lot of work that we have to do,” he said on Friday from the Cairns Regional Council building.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work over the last couple of years to address those matters.

“We are taking our time and making sure that we get it right.

“I fully believe that we can get it right and that it will be successful but it’s about taking the right amount of time and the right approach.

“This is a project that will be here forever so we have to do it right from the beginning and if it means that we’ve got to take more time then simply we will.”

Last week’s gathering was the “first of many” industry forums that Space Centre Australia would be hosting.

“Today is a big deal for us because it’s really important for us to work with the community and with industry,” he said.

“As a result of our commitment to advancing the Australian and international space industries, we are designed with a strong focus on collaboration.

“Space Centre Australia’s facility will inject an estimated $120 million into the Far Northern economy during the initial construction phase and an estimated $100 million per annum thereafter.

“Up to 300 permanent jobs will be created once operational and thousands of construction and support jobs throughout its development.”

Mr Palmer also said he was hoping to get funding for the spaceport via the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

The VIPs that gathered in Cairns included heads of the Australian Space Agency, delegates from NASA, the American Chamber of Commerce as well as key business leaders.

Weipa Town Authority chair Michael Rowland attended, along with Western Cape Chamber of Commerce president Jai Christie, while Cook Shire was represented through CEO Brian Joiner, Cr Marilyn Morris and director Lawrence Booth.

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch told the room that he was sold on the spaceport.

“I started as a sceptic and I’m now an absolute disciple,” he said with gusto.

“There are other launching facilities but this one here being equatorial and the type of work they’re going to be doing is very very different.

“We talk about sovereign capability, this is what we need.”

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