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AVALON 2023: Asia Pacific Launch offers LEO space access

Orbit Boy artwork showing the Boy launcher deploying from an Il-76 cargo aircraft and then heading into orbit. Image: Orbit Boy

New startup Asia Pacific Launch aims to provide cost effective, fast, reliable, and safe access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) with a responsive, air-dropped horizontal launch system. The company is a joint venture bringing together three countries and global firms Space Centre Australia, which is developing a launch site near Weipa in far north Queensland, and Orbit Boy, which has offices in London and Kyiv, Ukraine.

The company’s launch system consists of a 14.5 tonne, solid-fuel three-stage rocket, the Boy, dropped from the rear cargo door of an Il-76 cargo aircraft (or any other suitable ramp-equipped aircraft) flying at 9,000m and 650km/h. The Boy launcher was designed in cooperation with Ukrainian company Pivdenmash, formerly Yuzhmash, which has a long record of manufacturing both civil space launchers and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).

Asia Pacific Launch intends to provide customers with autonomous access to LEO with up to 200kg of payload available per launch, including ride share and multiple payload configuration options. The first airdrop test is scheduled for later this calendar year. Payload integration can be carried out at the customer’s local airport using a mobile cleanroom operating at ISO 8 cleanliness stands, the company says.

The Asia Pacific Launch proposal isn’t too different conceptually from the Virgin Orbit proposal to launch satellites from a rocket carried under Boeing 747 aircraft flown out of Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba. Virgin Orbit proposed undertaking a demonstration flight from Wellcamp as early as 2024, but the company’s recent financial woes may put this schedule back.

The UK-Australia-Ukraine joint venture was made possible by a collaborative multinational effort between Space Centre Australia, Orbit Boy and the UK Government’s Department for Business & Trade with additional support and facilitation through the Australia/United Kingdom Space Bridge.

“This Joint Venture represents an exciting time for Australia’s Space Industry and with the introduction of Asia Pacific Launch working collaboratively with other launch providers and payload owners into the highly competitive LEO Launch sector we will soon see access to space become more unified, more affordable, and more readily available for payload owners seeking cost effective, time efficient and safe access to LEO from Australia,” said Space Centre Australia’s CEO Mr. James Palmer.

Joshua Broom, Head of Space at the UK Department for Business & Trade said: “It is great to see Space Centre Australia leading this new collaboration, further building on their expansion in the UK, through Harwell in Oxfordshire, enabled by the Space Bridge. The company is part of the UK Space Trade Delegation to the AVALON Airshow 2023, the largest space sector delegation the UK Government has ever brought to Australia. There is no better time to further strengthen the space partnerships between these three nations, and we are excited to support this trilateral venture in the future.”

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