The space race is coming to East Arnhem Land after a stellar new project was given approval by traditional owners and the Northern Land Council.
Gumatj Corporation has granted a 40-year sub-lease to Equatorial Launch Australia for a 60ha parcel of land adjacent to the Garma site and Gulkula mine near Nhulunbuy.
The Arnhem Space Centre will be used to launch rockets and satellites into space.
Gumatj chief executive officer Klaus Helms said the partnership provided another opportunity for Gumatj to diversify its business operations and expand opportunities for local employment.
“This space centre is an opportunity for Gumatj and residents of East Arnhem Land to be at the forefront of developing a new industry for Australia, which will see long-term benefits for our region,” he said.
“Projects like this are important for showing that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal land are open for business.
“With support from the Northern Land Council, we have been able to agree to a commercial arrangement that meets the needs of mainstream business, as well as those of traditional owners and local Aboriginal communities.”
ELA chief executive officer Scott Wallis said the Canberra-based company planned to use proven launch technologies to provide access to space from the site for commercial, research and government organisations.
“This project will provide a competitive alternative to large launch complexes, both in terms of infrastructure and associated launch costs,” he said.
“It could also support and complement recent Australian space developments and ventures in small satellite manufacturing and space environmental testing, and support increased access to the space environment and the benefits it provides to the Australian economy.”
Approval from traditional owners, the Northern Land Council and the Commonwealth Government for the head lease to Gumatj, which enables the sub-lease to ELA, is the first step towards launches commencing in late 2018.
“What we are doing is innovative in Australia,” Mr Wallis said.
“This certainly can be done and, when successful, Australia will have the ability to launch its own home-built satellites, as well as satellites for regional countries that are also in need of a ride into space.”
ELA said extensive consultation had been undertaken with key stakeholders in Australia, including traditional owners, and internationally to ensure the viability of a spaceport in Arnhem Land.
ELA expects to start construction of the Arnhem Space Centre early in 2018.
The Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust has granted a lease for a 275ha parcel of land in north-east Arnhem Land to the Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation, which has subleased 60ha to ELA.
Developing East Arnhem Ltd, a not-for-profit economic development organisation, has facilitated the project.