Safe & simple launch access to polar and Sun synchronous orbits

| December 18, 2017

Advances in Low Earth Orbit (LEO – 1000km altitude) to undertake operations that were historically only possible using large spacecraft operating in Geostationary Earth Orbits (GEO – 36000km altitude). This satellite technology advancement has revolutionized the missions these smaller satellites undertake, and reduced the size of the rockets needed to get them into orbit.

CubeSats (nano-satellites) are now being put into LEOs around the North the South Poles of Earth in what are known as polar and Sun synchronous orbits (SSO) instead of large satellites, that need large rockets, orbiting around the Earth’s equator in GEO orbits. These new CubeSats can image the Earth multiple times every day and provide higher resolution, time critical, commercial information to farmers, emergency services, transport operators and general consumers compared to their GEO relatives. A great example is where Planet recently announced it images the entire Earth at three-meter resolution every 24 hours and makes the data available via the Internet. Their technology is having far-reaching consequences such as changing the way stock markets estimate world coal reserves and providing shipping lines with accurate cargo ship monitoring.

Most commercial rocket launch pads in use today were built in the 1960’s and 70’s to support large rockets launching large GEO satellites. To support these orbits most of the facilities were built as close to the Earth’s equator as possible to maximize the inertial velocity imparted on the launch vehicle through the Eastward rotation on the Earth, and minimize any costly on-orbit maneuvers required to shift the satellite orbit plane (inclination).

Physically the revolutionary shift from GEO to LEO polar and SSO orbits represents a 90-degree shift in orbit inclination (Figure 1). Few of these pads are capable of easily and safely launching a rocket into these polar or SSO orbits.

Figure 1 Global Shift From Equatorial to Polar & SSO Orbits

But humanity’s desire for increasingly large amounts of data from small satellites operating in polar and SSO orbits has become insatiable with projections of an additional 3000 satellites needed to be on-orbit by 2020. To address this need, at Southern Launch we are building a commercial launch complex along Australia’s southern coastline with unhindered, southward, launch corridors out over the Great Australian Bight. These launch corridors are being designed to directly service polar and Sun synchronous orbit insertion without the need to overfly landmasses, populated areas, high-profile infrastructure or delicate marine ecosystems. Our plan is for customers to have access to a generic pad, or develop their own dedicated facility tailored to their vehicle specific needs.

Safety to people and the environment is of utmost importance to us and to ensure the safe operation of launch vehicles we offer customers additional services to develop safety critical ascent guidance algorithms and avionics. To further minimize our ecological footprint we are working to incorporate the very latest launch pad technologies into our facility.

Australia’s path back to space since the launch of WRESAT 50 years ago has been long, but now there is a defined need for our unique geographical location on the globe. At Southern Launch we are proud to be a part of the growing Australian space ecosystem and look forward to our bright future in the coming years.