Spaceport slated for Cape York attracts global interest
Imagine a major international airport with rockets and satellites instead of planes and a commute 10 hours from the nearest major city.
That’s the vision put forward by Space Centre Australia’s James Palmer as representatives from NASA and the Australian Space Agency gather in far north Queensland.
Planning is under way for Australia’s next spaceport at a site near the mining town of Weipa, about 800 kilometres north of Cairns on the Cape York Peninsula.
Geographic location was important and helped determine the type of missions that could be launched, Mr Palmer told reporters at an industry forum on Friday.
“We’ve got an advantage where we are, which is very close to the equator,” he said.
The remote location offered plenty of open airspace and extremely low population density, and the project had the potential to support Weipa “long after its mining lifespan”, the company said in a statement.
It is hoped the spaceport would be capable of launching large satellites “right through to deep space activities”, Mr Palmer said.
“You can imagine this spaceport like a very large international airport, it’s got the ability to cater for small, medium and large launch missions,” he said.
“That is for domestic and international organisations such as the European Space Agency, NASA, the British government and so on.”
Small-scale launch missions are expected to take off by the end of 2026 before large-scale operations begin by 2029.
The project is in the design and environmental analysis phase, and consultation is under way with traditional owners in the region.
The centre is estimated to create up to 300 permanent jobs once operational and inject $100 million a year into the far north’s economy.
The project has been completely self-funded to date and negotiations are under way with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
“Those negotiations have been ongoing for quite some time now and they’re very positive,” Mr Palmer said.
As someone who “started as a sceptic and is now an absolute disciple”, federal MP Warren Entsch said the project would sell itself.
“It is going to be quite unique in Australia, 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,” the deputy chair of the joint select committee on Northern Australia said.
“We talk about sovereign capability, this is what we need.”