Unpopular space launch fees

Rocket launch companies are firing up about federal government plans to charge them for take-offs and landings. They say the launch fees are “grossly disproportionate” and could be up to three times the value of rocket development and mission costs.

The Australian Government has proposed charging a range of fees for permits, including for rocket launches and returns, and for launch facilities, but has just started a new round of consultations on the plan.

Under the proposed cost-recovery model, if the Australian Space Agency needs to hire specialist experts to assess an application, it would cost $2200 a day.  Work done within the Australian Space Agency would be absorbed by the agency.

An example in the draft fees shows a launch permit might have a set fee of $40,294 and hiring an expert might cost $149,600, giving a total of $189,894.

The agency would absorb part of that, leaving the company with a $149,600 bill.

But the “launch leaders” of the Australian rocket industry say the fees could cripple the fledgling space industry. 

The launch leaders comprise Southern Launch, which operates orbital launch services in South Australia, Gilmour Space Technologies, which is developing rockets in Queensland, and Equatorial Launch Australia, which operates the Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory.

Southern Launch chief executive officer Lloyd Damp says New Zealand charges a flat rate of NZ$60 and the United States of America has no charges.

“[This plan] threatens to impose uncompetitive costs on operators of small launch vehicles and Australian launch facility providers,” he says.

“If implemented to its full extent the scheme may become a disincentive to growing the Australian sovereign space launch industry.

“No fees should be applied to the assessment of launch permit or facility applications.”

The leaders have written to a Parliamentary inquiry into the space industry pointing to the potential jobs and revenue that launches will generate and arguing for the fees to be abolished.

“Australia is poised to stand on the global stage as a credible provider of commercial space launches,” they wrote, adding that for Australia to compete on an equal footing globally, the fees should be abolished along with the need for external experts.

The fees were meant to kick in on July 1 last year, but were deferred because of COVID-19, and are now due to start on July 1 this year.

This week the Australian Space Agency started a new consultation process that will look at when payments will be due, and how the costs are calculated.

It will also consider whether fees “for activities that can demonstrate innovation and entrepreneurship in the sector” could be fully or partially waived. 

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