The first commercial rocket was launched from Australia to the edge of space on Saturday carrying a payload that will aid in the country’s space and defence efforts.
The DART rocket payload deployed a prototype radio frequency receiver unit designed for the Royal Australian Air Force (Air Force) at 100 kilometres above the Earth’s surface.
The sensors will provide information from the upper atmosphere to improve Australian defence forces’ situational awareness in battlefields and in difficult and hard to reach areas of operation.
The rocket was launched from the new commercial Southern Launch Koonibba Rocket Range in South Australia is a collaboration between the Air Force and Australian industry partners Southern Launch and DEWC Systems.
RAAF Group Captain Tobyn Bearman said the Air Force was very interested in seeing the next step of where the new sensors could take Defence.
“These are next generation sensors that we’re exploring,” Capt. Bearman said.
Bearman said it was important to build up and support Australia’s sovereign defence capabilities, such as the work being done by Southern Launch and DEWC Systems. “I’ve said to the men and women that I work with that there’s never been a more exciting time to be in Defence,” he said.
Ian Spencer, DEWC System’s chief executive officer, told the ABC in August that the launch will help build the capacity to make Australia’s defence force self-reliant.
Linda Reynolds, Australia’s federal defence minister, said space was an increasingly important domain.
“The payload, carried on a DART rocket, provides a stepping stone for Air Force to explore how advanced rapidly deployable networked sensors can be employed to provide information across Defence networks,” Reynolds said in a media release on Sept. 19.
The prototype deployed by the rocket was developed by South Australian electronic warfare contractor DEWC Systems and sponsored by the Air Force’s Plan Jericho.
The payload—which is about the size of a whiteboard marker—will reportedly reach the edge of space and fall back down to Earth having deployed a parachute.
The rocket launch forms part of Plan Jericho’s advanced sensing program to detect and track challenging targets.
Plan Jericho is an Air Force effort to use augmented intelligence—including linking humans with machines—to counter technologically sophisticated and rapidly morphing threats that require fast responses.
Melissa Price, the minister for defence industry, said the DART rocket launch was a partnership between the government and industry.
“The rocket is unlike any rocket ever launched in Australia, and is part of what is known as ‘New Space’ technologies—small rockets carrying reduced sized satellites using commercially available technologies,” she said.
At just 3.4 metres long and weighing 34 kilograms (about 75 pounds) the DART rocket is a fraction of the size of rockets launched by NASA and SpaceX.
The Australian government is investing $7 billion to improve space capabilities over the next 10 years as part of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan.
The DART rocket launch comes days after U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said China and Russia have introduced weapons to space, including killer satellites.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed a $738 billion defence bill in December last year that authorised the creation of a Space Force as a sixth branch of the U.S. military.
“Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital,” Trump said at the time.
In July, Australia’s Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said: “Space is a truly global endeavour, and Australia is now looking to make a strong contribution to space safety and security using home-grown technologies and systems.”
“Supporting cutting-edge technology development will allow Defence to participate more actively in space activities and do more to monitor and protect our vital space systems from threats.”
Australia plans to triple the size of its space sector to $12 billion and create an extra 20,000 jobs by 2030.