Spaceport Darwin Low Risk Business Model

Point Stephens NT General AreaA Staged Business Model

by Robert Brand. To be clear, I will not go into the long term business details, profit and loss figures in a public forum and I will not be exposing any business plans other than a general outline, but the nature of why it is a low risk for the Northern Territory government and my company will be clear. There is almost nothing needed other than to reserve this land until developers wish to fund the development of private launch pads.

I proposed a site for Spaceport Darwin in yesterday’s post and by today there were several people that liked the site, but needed a business model to fully accept that this could happen. I understand that desire to see everything so this morning I am posting the basis of the business model. I was going to wait a week to be able to report more, but to get some credibility, here it is.

Spaceport Darwin will be a staged approach that would see investment grow over time and facilities established as needed. The failure of the past is that massive investment was needed on day one. Another factor is that we can establish credibility over time for the site and with those wanting i invest in launch facilities. With almost zero cost, agreements can be put in place for the first part of the operation and sounding rocket launches can take place before the main area sees a shovel of dirt moved.

Why does our Business Need a Spaceport?

Simply because in two years we expect to test fire our booster / sounding rocket to space. I have worked with CASA and with other groups that would have plenty of objections to where I can launch from. There are also few places to launch to orbit. Insurance companies prefer a water launch and costs are lower if you can lower the risk. Since our long term goals are orbital space, it makes sense to look to a long term site to save money. My company also has an interest in being involved in the running of a spaceport. My background is founded in the civil aviation sector and my education was focused on Civil Aviation electronics and systems. I have also a flying background and interact with CASA on balloon flights to the stratosphere. In our company (being set-up now) I am currently heading a group to build spacecraft and rocket technology. All small points, but with the right people, it makes me ideal to kick start such a business. We also need an area away from major air traffic to launch heavy payloads to the Stratosphere. As a Spaceport is not in constant use, this makes Spaceport Darwin ideal as a launch point for 2-3 ton payloads for stratospheric space observation. With a 2 year start date on a couple of these items, now is the time for me to secure a site for a Spaceport and negotiate an outcome.

Potential Spaceport Services

Apart from fuel storage, gas storage, water, power, staff and other background essentials, I am talking about the end product/ services. The first three below my company requires in two years:

  • Sounding rocket – non orbital – straight up and down
  • Sounding rocket – launched to the east. Payload landing 190km away
  • 2-3 ton payloads sent by balloon to the stratosphere.
  • light to heavy rocket launch facilities – increasing over time
  • 5km runway for landing winged space vehicles
  • Up to 4 launch pads – as demand requires. We are seeing the establishment of private pads in the US at the Kennedy Space Centre
  • Equatorial launches – near polar launches
  • Launches for space tourism
  • Other operations as required

Why be in this business? The current worth of the Space Sector is US$330,000,000,000 per year and Australia is only earning money from the radio astronomy and the space communications service. It is a small player, well positioned to player a bigger role servicing launches, but to be competitive, we must keep our operational costs low and that means being close to a major town. With these requirements met and adequate competition for supply of services to the facility, Spaceport Darwin could well see a significant business in the future. We will eventually have a Space Agency and they will be promoting such objectives. Even securing 1/3 of one percent of the space business would see about US$1B income annually with much of that injected back into the local economy through wages, spending and government fees. It is clear that we can secure much more than this if all services are met.

What is the Proposal underpinning the Business Model?

Stage 1

Legal: The Northern Territory (NT) government would need to place a 15 to 20 year hold on any other development in the proposed area while services are put in place and expanded over time. Stage one also requires the clearing of a future car park to be used as a temporary launch pad. Once stage 2 is  implemented, all launches can be moved to their permanentlocation

Technical: A clearing of the Car Park area and a concrete area for launches and testing. The concrete area will be suitable for small launches and balloon launches. The access road, although gravel, should be suitable for large trucks in the dry season. A bunker house with no equipment would be built on the west side of the future Car Park to facilitate a safe house during launches. Not equipment will be left between launches and the building secured and patrolled. Balloon and rocket flights to space will occur from time to time. PlusAerospace (expected name of the company) will manage the site from a launch perspective. That will be source of most of the income

The Car Park clearing will be paid for by grants and other funding. PlusAerospace will look after the mobile plant and other setup as required for launches and will bring shipping containers ready to deploy for the electronics and fuel mixing. The ingredients are of a safe nature until combined and are safe without an ignition source. Only large balloons, sounding rockets and small orbital rockets could be launched from a temporary site.

Point Stephens NT_2Stage 2

Legal: This would only proceed with finance, partnerships and most importantly with customers. A solid commitment from the Northern Territory (NT) government and other legal entities would be needed at that time for long term tenancy and a permanent arrangement for continued services put in place with PlusAerospace as the customer. The government would be responsible for build a sealed road suitable for heavy loads and a 400m bridge suitable for the same heavy loads.

Technical: It would require a large pad for launches and completion of a security perimeter (and fence) that would be easy to patrol and cleared areas for a large concrete launch pad and launch structure. Like the US Kennedy Space Center (KSC) it would need a bunker-like launch control centre 5km away from the launch site with adequate protection. This would need sealed roads from Darwin to support the area. Gas and fuel facilities would be needed and it should be noted that much of the specialist gases used are plentiful in Darwin as they arrive by boat for distribution around Australia.  It is likely that facilities would grow for a crawler and fabrication centre and although these items may be a long way away, such assets and pathways will be included in plans for the site ensuring adequate land is available for the service and safety.

Other Business Model Information

It is too early at this stage and some discussions are private in nature, but this staged approach to a business model will also allow a real growth and need dependent expansion that is very low risk. Government partnerships will ensure that risk is kept low and it is expected that a permanent arrangement will be in place with CASA that has to regularly pass review, but will allow launches without jumping through massive hoops each launch. ie, some permanent restrictions at all times. It should be noted that the proposed runway would be built in a location that would be suitable for operation near the Darwin. The current suggested location may be too close to the airport and will need to be located further away. The launch of the tourist flight (rocket motors) could be positioned in the appropriate airspace for the rocket flights.

Comments

I would seriously love your comments on this approach and will respond as needed. I will begin some serious lobbying for this site unless a better one exists, so please place your thinking caps on and let me know your thoughts.

Reading

This following link is a bit old, but will fill you in on some useful background. Cape York and Weipa Spaceports never progressed and people felt bunt by the experience.

http://www.spacetoday.org/Rockets/Spaceports/Australia.html

The following link is also very old and the Christmas Island spaceport also never progressed:

http://members.optusnet.com.au/virgothomas/space/spaceport.html#History

Darwin Area and Spaceport Darwin

Point Stephens NT_2

Point Stephens NT General Area

Spaceport Darwin Proposal

Point Stephens NT General AreaSpaceport Darwin – 55Km Drive from Town.

by Robert Brand. It is clear that Australia needs a Space Agency and the Agency needs to help establish an Australian Spaceport. Given that it is only a matter of time I am very interested in Spaceport Darwin!

What is a Spaceport?

The Oxford dictionary simple states: a base from which spacecraft are launched.

These days, with spacecraft returning to earth for reuse and also for winged spacecraft, the definition must also include landing so a modern definition would be:  a base from which spacecraft are launched and landed.

Port Stephens in the Northern Territory of Australia, would seem to make an ideal spaceport. I believe that the land is mainly Crown Land on a perpetual lease to the Northern Territory Land Corporation. There are no buildings on the point and the land appears to be available for development. A gravel road is the only way of getting close to the site and it may currently be unpassable during the wet season.  The wet season tends to cause major access problems without high dry road access. Luckily the road traverses only high land, but the rain can make this road impossible to travel. If development starts, the road would need to be sealed from Darwin and also new roadways within the complex.

For those wanting to take a better look, it is on Google Earth and it is the land to the south east of Gunn Point NT Australia:

-12.180 Latitude and 131.160 longitude.

The land is 19km north to south and up to 11km east to west at the furthermost points.

Possible Australian Launch pointsWhy Spaceport Darwin?

In the picture to the right, I have outlined (in red) some areas suitable to launch. It would be ideally suited to an equatorial orbit and possibly a polar orbit. It should also be suited to a sounding rocket launch with a forward landing spot. There are few places that a space port should and can be built. There have been several false starts with Great Barrier Reef concerns and major land rights groups forming a huge lobby in Cape York. Inland sites tend to have severe restrictions on large launches because of the risks of launching over land and an population.

Australia does have Woomera, but it is inland and has massive issues for launching anything other than sounding rockets (straight up and down). Launching over water offers a way lower risk and the cost of insurance. Woomera’s costs are very high at the moment. Commercial launch sites are more competitive. The nearest large town is a day’s travel.

Any launch site needs to be capable of growing with the needs of the site and I expect that this proposed site should be able to grow to 4 launch pads for the future. Obviously it will start small, and grow with the need for local space services.

What Makes a Good Spaceport?

What are the important requirements of a Spaceport. This is not a spaceport for space tourism, but it could easily be included. We are looking at a serious launch facility in this proposal. The possibility exists to launch multistage rockets from this site. So as a launch facility, what essentials or important items do we need?:

  • In a country with financial stability.
  • In a country with political stability.
  • In a country with geological stability.
  • In a country with a well educated workforce.
  • Clear path to the east (equatorial orbit).
  • Clear Path to the north or South (polar orbit).
  • A safe distance from any public building or public road (8Km from launch pad).
  • Fresh Water. Lots of it.
  • Short distance to a major town.
  • Road, train, air and port facilities near by.
  • Ability to isolate the area for launches.
  • Construction work force.
  • Operational work force.
  • In town fabrication.
  • Land ahead capability for sounding rocket flights.
  • Close to the equator for equatorial flights.
  • Expansion for future launch pads
  • Private launch facilities / launch pads
  • 5km or longer runway a possibility.
  • Substantial power services.
  • Calm water in the launch area
  • A substantial distance from any airport
  • A substantial distance from town for safety reasons.

There are way more requirements or “should haves” like fuel handling facilities, but the ones above are a great start. Let’s see how Spaceport Darwin shapes up.

Essentially we have a green light on all of the above points. The only issue is the need for road works once the site becomes operational.

There are issues with the northerly launch, with a tight flight path between some islands. There is land only to the south.

Another benefit is the local waters to the east are only about 10m to 15m deep. This is well within normal scuba diving capability (usually 27m depth max for sports diving). Recovery of rocket components that may parachute to the water can easily be recovered.

A large observation area for the general public can be placed on the southern end of the complex Launch days attract many people that want to get close to the launch of a major space vehicle – even a small launch. It is essential to keep people 5Km from any launch. The launch pad should be 8Km away from public property. All of this is a green light for Spaceport Darwin.

There is a small national park to the east only a 10km kilometres away. It is small and only 8km wide. Human access is only by boat. Another small piece of land is crossed by any spacecraft launched to orbit and it is 170Km to the east. Most rockets will be in space or near to space by that time and the land is sparsely populated. This is perfect for a sounding rocket flight with a winged glider returning from space. There is even a sealed runway at Oenpelli Airport. This is 200Km distance from the launch site at 95 degree bearing and within gliding distance for a landing. The rocket would land in Van Diemen Gulf.

Electric power is not far away and fresh water is readily available from underground sources and large tanks can be filled over time before any launch. Water recovery following a launch is also possible.

There is plenty more to look at and assess, but Spaceport Darwin has a lot of positives and with operations cost being 60% or more for a launch, having local staff living in Darwin with a short drive each day is very attractive. Below is the Van Diemens Gulf map. Note most flights are likely to be in space or close to space as they pass over the land to the east. The population density is extremely low.

Space Port Darwin - Van Diemen Gulf NT

Spaceport Darwin Benefits

Spaceport Darwin will:

  • Attract high tech staff to the area
  • Increase local tourism
  • Improve unemployment figures
  • Create innovation in the region
  • Attract foreign companies and investment
  • Improve roads and services
  • Focus attention on the region as a global Space Hub
  • Have a 5km runway in the region for emergencies once fully operational.
  • Be a space tourism launch and landing site.

This discussion will continue over time. Please leave your comments about this site.

 – and yes, there are crocodiles!