Defence FOI request Arnhem Space Centre


KELLIE TRANTER Australia’s appetite for Hypersonics


FOI request and documents received:

Discussion papers, emails, briefs, documents, correspondence relating to the use of the Arnhem Space Centre, Nhulunbuy –as it is now known- by Defence from 1 January 2017 to date [being 24 September 2019].

Dramatis personae

Mark Bateup

Scott Wallis – Chief Executive Officer Equatorial Launch Australia (‘ex-Defence Science & Technology Organisation’)

John Carsten – Chief Engineer Equatorial Launch Australia

Nick Stacy – Research Leader Intelligence Systems National Security & Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division Defence Science & Technology Group

Mark Riffel – tba

Robert Debnam – HF Radar Trials Manager High Frequency Radar Branch National Security & ISR Division Defence Science & Technology Group

Matthew McKinna – a/DL Rocket Propulsion & Ballistics Systems, Missile and Space Propulsion Group, Weapons and Combat Systems Division

David Holdsworth – JORN Open Innovation Network Proposal Coordinator HF Radar Branch, Intelligence, Surveillance and Space

Kruger White – Defence Science & Technology Organisation Intelligence, Surveillance and Space Division



17.10.17 – Email from Nick Stacy to Scott Wallis, ‘It was great seeing you at IAC and hearing your news of approvals for sounding rockets. Do you have an updated presentation or media release associated with your progress that could be used to assist us with a briefing on launch facility options in Australia?’

17.10.17 – Email from Nick Stacy to Mark Riffel to Darren May, GPCAT, and Tracy Douglas, WGCDR. ‘Thank you for your voice message regarding a Senate Estimates brief on launch facilities other than Woomera. I returned your call and left a message and will try again in the morning. If you could please let us know a timeframe for the brief it would be helpful. You may be aware of Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) led by Scott Wallis (ex DSCO). Attached is a presentation from last November. I spoke with him at the International Aeronautical Congress in Adelaide last month and he now has approval for sounding rocket launches, expecting the first in the new year, and plans to upgrade to orbital launch approval in the next year or so. They are providing the launch facility where you bring your own rocket and have been talking with [redacted] several other rocket providers….Under the space strategy we are keen to try a local launch somewhere and the very preliminary options in our region seem to be [redacted]…the ELA facility for equatorial launch…’

18.10.17 – Email from Mark Riffel to Nick Stacy in relation to Senate Estimates – Launch Options.

18.10.17 – Email from Mark Riffel to Nick Stacy – ‘Tried calling earlier but couldn’t raise you.  The issue I was calling about (Senate Estimates Brief by 1100 today) is now complete.

18.10.17 – Email from Scott Wallis to Nick Stacy. ‘…During IAC Minister Pyne was given a quick overview of ELA’s activities. He asked to be emailed a summary of capabilities and a proposal for Defence related activities. This will be done once the sub-lease is in place….In regard to launch facility options, I believe Arnhem Space Station is likely to be the only viable Australian commercial launch site in the near to medium term; especially considering its ability to do horizontal and vertical launch and recovery of stages and payloads…’

19.1.18 – Email from Scott Wallis to Mark Bateup, Shaun Wilson, John Carsten, Chief Engineer ELA,  Rohan George, Nick Stacy in relation to ‘Introduction to Equatorial Launch Australia’. ‘Shaun Wilson suggested it might be opportune for me to make contact with you and to provide a brief overview of Equatorial Launch Australia….I expect you may have an interest in our plans to offer sub-orbital targets or the opportunity to launch Defence supplied rockets and/or payloads from the Northern Territory. If so, please let me know if you would like more information.’

Jan 2018 – Equatorial Launch Australia Information Brief. ‘…Satellites in EqLEO orbits can provide coverage of Australia, United States and other allied areas of strategic interest, the majority of the South China Sea, maritime areas in South East Asia…High revisit rates and strategically located ground stations can enable near persistent satellite surveillance of the approaches to Australia…..regional access controlled by permit (traditional owners regularly close off areas for ceremony.)…Staff with experience setting up an Australian space range for Defence…Customers…Government/Defense replacement of satellites…rapid augmentation of satellites (responsive space), government research…nations are investigating quick replenishment of space capabilities..payloads and launch vehicles can be quickly relocated to Gove for launch, deep sea port for transport of large rockets and supporting infrastructure, optical fibre connectivity enables remote control and monitoring. Defence/[redacted]  Launches…restricted access to traditional lands (require permits to enter Arnhem Land) not visible from the highway, sub-orbital testing…Tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) can be developed and tested. National Benefits – Space flight can engender significant national enthusiasm. An Australian space launch facility provides opportunities (direct and indirect) for strategic launch capability for Government, strategic engagement with regional countries for launch of their satellites….’

11.4.18 – Email from Scott Wallis to Nick Stacy, ‘I am in Adelaide tomorrow for the SA Space Forum which I note you plan to speak at. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet for a short time at the Forum to brief you on our engagement plans with Defence. Please let me know if this is possible and a preferred time…’

11.4.18 – Email from Nick Stacy to Scott Wallis, ELA. ‘Sounds great to catch up at one of the breaks or at the end.’

4.3.19 – Email from Scott Wallis to [redacted] Addendum to Noetic Report. ‘Dear EDTAS Participants, [redacted] ‘The second aspect is the disruptive technology of launching using railgun or electric launch system for both commercial and Defence related payloads. The following excerpts taken from highlights an area not addressed by Noetic but which should significantly change the launch market….’

3.6.19 – Email from Robert Debnam to Justin Praschifka, Kruger White et al. ‘ This may be of interest to us. NASA will be launching sounding rockets from just South of Nhulunbuy towards the East.’

5.6.19 – Email from Matthew McKinna to Scott Wallis. ‘[redacted] From a defence science perspective, we are leveraging several areas of technology and research to explore concepts like responsive and reactive (<24 hours) space access for tactical utilisation of space. Things like very high energy density solid rockets, 3D printed disposable liquid chambers, aerospikes, etc. A key component of evaluating that type of technology is the ability to put it into a sounding rocket and test it…’

5.6.19 – Email from Scott Wallis to Matthew McKinna ‘Thank you for reaching out to ELA. I would welcome the opportunity to talk sometime after 14 June. At that time I should be able to provide a PowerPoint presentation specifically for Defence.’

5.6.19 – Email from Matthew McKinna to Scott Wallis – [redacted].

17.6.19 – Email from Scott Wallis to Matthew McKinna in relation to Responsive Space Access  – ELA overview. ‘…The slide reflects the potential routes for trials related to high speed vehicles wholly within the atmosphere or transiting through space. Testing options cover day-night terminator, and dry to tropical atmospheric effects, with space-based or terrestrial tracking over a long baseline. The geography and geometry of the weapons ranges, the RAAF bases and terrestrial radars is relevant. Extremely low population densities are typical across flight paths which are generally electronically quiet. Recovery of vehicles/payloads is possible over land or in the Gulf of Carpentaria (max depth 80m with 55m typical on a flat seabed). This is a capability not available elsewhere for testing Australian and international technologies. [redacted]..’

17.6.19 – Arnhem Space Centre – Defence Space.

16.7.19 – Email from Kruger White to Matthew McKinna. ‘I’m seeking more information about the NASA launches from East Arnhem land….I’m keen to learn planned dates, trajectory information, any formal Defence involvement, points of contact in the Australian government….’

19.7.19 – Email from David Lingard to Spyratos Forbes in relation to ‘NASA launches from East Arnhem’ – ‘FYI’

19.7.19 – Email from Matthew McKinna to Kruger White et al ‘The latest information: No Defence Involvement. Best advice from ELA as to date is still ‘mid 2020’ [redacted]. Only POC at the Federal level is Alex Seneta in the Space Agency, and that is quite recent. I think the best option may be for you to open a dialogue with Scott directly…’

19.7.19 – Email from Kruger White to Matthew McKinna et al – ‘Thanks for the offer to connect with Scott [redacted]…’

19.7.19 – Email from Kruger White to Matthew McKinna et al ‘Thanks. Yes, we do have an interest.’ [redacted] Any details that you can provide that digs deeper than the media announcements would be helpful.’

18.7.19 – Email from Matthew McKinna to Kruger White. ‘At the moment information is limited but I am in the process of digging past the [redacted] media announcements to get to the heart of the planned launches. As far as I know, NASA is bringing everything and ELA are providing the dirt, Dates are tentative for ‘2020 launches’ – and it was post a NASA feasibility contract…’

7.8.19 – Email from Matthew McKinna to Scott Wallis. ‘If you have not already passed in the corridors, I would like to introduce you to Dr Kruger White from our Intelligence, Surveillance and Space Division. As you may have garnered from previous questions we have a possible interest in observing any launches of opportunity…’

8.8.19 – Email from Scott Wallis to Matthew McKinna and Kruger White ‘Very happy to keep you in the loop regarding proposed launches. I have already made informal suggestions to AuSpOC that we would coordinate early given the potential for Defence baselining, observing and tracking. [redacted]…’

12.8.19 – Email from Rohan George to Kruger White et al ‘I will be attending SCINDICATE 2019 this week in Edinburgh and will be delighted to meet and discuss future opportunities for DSTG at the Arnhem Space Centre (ASC)….’

13.9.2019 – Email from Rohan George to Kruger White, Trevor Harris, David Holdsworth, David Lindgard in relation to ELA and DST ISSD at Arnhem Space Centre. ‘Hi Gentlefolk, This is just a touch base to tie several DST ISSD conversation threads together toward more pending involvement at Arnhem Space Centre….ELA already briefed several highest levels of Australian warfighter. ELA plan to brief Joint Capability toward a more holistic approach to engagement….’

19.9.19 – Email from David Holdsworth to Kruger White, David Lindgard, Vladimir Perejogin, Matthew McKinna, Travis Bessell and Stacy Travis. ‘Is there a designated DST POC for comms with ELA? It might be easier for ELA if they only need to keep one person in the loop. Is it worth having a meeting to share our interest in ELAs work and see how we can all collaborate?..’


Print Friendly, PDF & Email