Australian Gateway to the final frontier

(Australian Associated Press)

 

With the mining boom having peaked and car manufacturing heading offshore, Australia should look to the stars – and one Gold Coast company is leading the way.

“We’re in the middle of a worldwide space renaissance, and Australia – Queensland in particular – is primed to take flight,” says Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies.

Despite a background in finance, Gilmour had always heard the stars call to him. “A 20-year banking career allowed me to look at what was happening in the space industry in a different way,” he says. “Supply and demand is no different there, so I started looking into what was possible.”

There are 40-60 companies attempting to launch up to 8,000 small satellites into orbit in the next five years. “By 2022, these satellites will provide super-fast internet speeds beyond anything possible through fibre-optic cables or copper, anywhere on the planet. You won’t need cell towers,” he says. “They’re a true game-changer, and we wanted to be a part of that change.” These small satellites need rockets to get them into space, and that’s where Gilmour saw an opportunity. “There were just not enough rockets available for all the satellites that needed to be launched.”

After years of research, Gilmour founded Gilmour Space Technologies with his brother James in 2012 with a focus on satellites and rockets. Twenty-five full-time employees design and fabricate a range of space propulsion systems at their Gold Coast headquarters. “Our big difference was that we started with lots of money,” Adam says. “It meant we were able to operate for three years without the need for investors.”

The fruit of their labour was the hybrid rocket, so named because it uses a mix of solid and liquid fuels. “It was the only real way to get a true, low-cost launch vehicle onto the market,” Adam says. Gilmour Space Technologies launched their first rocket in 2016. After a design change that resulted in a 20-fold thruster increase, they’re ready to launch again later this year. The launch of a satellite into orbit is expected to follow in 2020.

“For a long time, space activities were dominated by governments and multinationals,” James says. “But now, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have invested in space, and that’s bearing fruit. There’s no reason why that can’t happen in Australia.”

Queensland is naturally well-positioned as a launch site. Its close proximity to the equator means it takes better advantage of the planet’s rotational velocity, meaning a rocket will require less fuel to escape Earth’s orbit.

The Australian start-up’s success has led to global attention. In February, the Gilmours signed a deal with NASA to work on a rover that will harvest water from the surface of Mars. They’ve also managed to attract the 18th Australian Space Research Conference to the Gold Coast, where it will be held on September 24-26. “Delegates who come for the conference will be able to see what’s on offer here on the Gold Coast, and local universities can get involved as well,” James says. “Space will always be inspiring to the next generation.” Adam hopes Gilmour Space Technologies serves as an example of an Australian company making a splash in space. “We’ve had no government funding.

We’d like to see the government getting more involved in the space industry,” he says. “There’s a boom in space to serve customers on Earth, and we can be a part of it.” This feature has been produced in collaboration with the City of Gold Coast.

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