It is an unfortunate reality of the mining and quarrying industries that, when not properly rehabilitated, exhausted sites become a blight to communities and the environment. The current usual practice involves simply importing fill and hoping that the area returns to its natural state in the next 100 years. Here at RTI, we saw this as an opportunity to innovate as we have so many times before.
Working in collaboration with the University of Southern Queensland, it was observed that not only Queensland, but Australia as a whole, lacked a hub for the development of its future industries. The establishment of such a facility would require procurement and development of a significant parcel of land – but what if existing quarry land could be utilized? This concept birthed Rocket Technologies International, a sister company to Rock Trade Industries, working to further our mission of sustainable market practices.
In mid-2018 RTI were approached by Peter Schubel (Professor of Composites Manufacturing, Executive Director Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Space Sciences (IAESS), Director Centre for Future Materials (CFM), and Defence Security Officer), enquiring whether we had any interest in establishing a rocket testing facility on our Helidon quarry site. His reasoning for such a question was:
- We are a mine site that conducts blasting, so the safety component required would be relatively easy to meet.
- He had come to understand the RTI mantra regarding sustainability of environment, resources, and continued use of the site.
- We had space to dedicate to such a project.
- There was not an approved testing facility anywhere in Australia, other than test areas controlled by the military.
The initial thought was that a formal collaboration between RTI and the USQ would be drawn up, subject to the site receiving the appropriate approval from all regulatory bodies, and a facility for rocket testing and fuel manufacturing be constructed. This facility was for the use of USQ as part of their space research, however there was also potential for providing an approved rocket testing facility to the rapidly advancing Queensland and Australian Space industries. The overall idea was to create a space hub for learning and the development and testing of new technologies.
It became very evident, very quickly, to the stakeholders of RTI that this proposal meshed with the business model of site sustainability and continued use after quarrying had ceased. It also fit perfectly into its program of innovation and creating sustainable environmental solutions through embracing the latest technology. Additionally, it provided a vital piece of missing infrastructure that would help Australia achieve space sovereignty.
Just as quickly, it was evident that the biggest drawback to the success of the Australian space industry’s leading innovators were the bureaucratic speedbumps being faced. These hurdles were almost insurmountable with each potential launch company endeavouring to not only secure launch sites, but more urgently, the ability for static rocket engine testing prior to launch. Potential launch companies sought to build private test facilities which were subsequently closed by local authorities, having neither given approval nor indeed having any idea of how an approval could be given as there were limited national guidelines. These issues were seen as opportunities for future growth of the company, resulting in the birth of Rocket Technologies International, a sister company to Rock Trade Industries.
During the investigation into ongoing viability for this venture, it became apparent that there was a total lack of approved testing facilities for a growing group of advanced technology companies developing equipment not only into the space industry, but also military equipment suppliers and many other areas of technical development.
There was an urgency not only for the University to commence their testing program, but also there be an approved testing facility available to private companies, both Australian and overseas who are developing launch capability in Australia.
One exciting benefit in developing Australia’s capacity to launch satellites, is the potential 30% reduction in CO2 emissions in agriculture production by adapting to GPS locational tracking in crop management. A significant beneficiary for this technological advancement will be the Lockyer Valley with it being a vital food crop production area in Australia.
The Australian Government’s proposal of establish collaborative partnerships between government and private enterprise to advance capabilities in multi-faceted areas including space and military was also an integral reason for progressing. RTI are currently in negotiations with DSTG to formulate official collaborations in facilitating various and significant testing requirement to accelerate achieving Australian Sovereignty.
Towards the end of 2018, Rocket Technologies International and USQ began collating the data for compliance and developed plans to cover all foreseen requirements. Ensuring the highest possible level of security and safety, the use of leading technology, incorporating secure designs for storage and testing, a path forward was created.
At the same time, the team was working with relevant government authorities at federal, state, and local levels, alongside potential clients to establish the guidelines and regulations required to provide a desperately needed testing and manufacturing hub. Servicing multiple advanced technology manufacturers in the sector, this facility would be world class, independent, and secure, attracting the attention of companies both nationally and abroad. Demonstrating Australian Sovereign capability. The proposed site design will be based on world best practice the information gathered from leading international sites.
There are many advantages to this approach. For companies conducting testing, it eliminates the time consuming, costly, and frustrating experience of trying to plan and develop a proprietary site. Our aim was to work with relevant government entities to create a best practice compliance standard, that would be applicable nationally for the development any future sites. This unified approach eliminated the disturbance and creation of new green field sites which may only have a short life span. This facility provides an educational hub for the growth of future scientists and technology developers enabling secure, sustainable career paths. This hub also represents long-term development opportunities for the local community, attracting leading technology companies to Australia and indeed to Queensland.
Partnership with the University of Southern Queensland enables a collaboration with world wide recognised experts in a variety of fields, the space sector, hypersonic, data gathering and analysis, and the tracking of spacecraft as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
December 2020 saw an opportunity for our team to successfully demonstrate re-entry observation capability with the tracking of Hayabusa 2, a returning Japanese space capsule that had been on 6-year journey to gather asteroid dust. This prompted the development of a rapid response Airborne Observation division, whose first mission was programmed and organised in just 8 days, with bespoke equipment manufactured and modified fit for flight.
This mission was an unprecedented success. The data collected was more robust than anything previously observed by a private enterprise, receiving acclaim from worldwide space authorities. The team’s findings can be found in this article published in the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.
Rocket Technologies International Timeline
|October 2018||Commenced formal talks with USQ on establishing rocket testing facility at Helidon|
|November 2018||Commenced discussions with government bodies on requirements|
|November 2018||Commenced boxing for first concrete slab and fabricated steel mounting platform to hold down. Designed to exceed 400kn thrust|
|November 2018||First batch of concrete pours|
|December 2018||Permission granted to gather information from testing undertaken to assist formal approval|
|January 2019||Certification for construction of pad and test rail received, containers positioned around test slab as part of protection, insulated cyclone rated work shed constructed|
|19 June 2019||USQ rocket testing facility site visit with live firing – A/Queensland Chief Scientist Paul Bertsch, A/Assistant Director-General (Department of Environment and Science) Mark Jacobs, Local State Member Mr Jim McDonald, and Australian Space Authority Executive Director Karl Rodrigues|
|13 September 2019||American Chamber of Commerce Sponsorship – QLD Defence, Space and Security Event First release of the Rocket Technologies International name and logo|
|January to December 2019||Several tests were undertaken for the purpose of gathering information prior to full approval being given. During this time there was constant communications with all government levels and industry There were no cross-government guidelines for such a site|
|2020||Continued development of concrete pad extensions, installation of tilt up panels and site drainage|
|November 2020||First firing – Amber Rocket (PFi Aerospace, USQ, and RTI collaboration)|
|28 November 2020||Our partners at USQ became aware of opportunity to further expand scientific knowledge by tracking the return of Hayabusa 2, a returning Japanese space capsule that had been on 6-year journey to gather asteroid dust, scheduled to land in Australia on approx. 6 December 2020, prompting the development of a rapid response Airborne Observation division. This mission was programmed and organised in just 8 days, with bespoke equipment manufactured and modified fit for flight. The success of this mission has received acclaim from worldwide Space authorities|
Currently, RTI are in negotiations with the Queensland Government to develop a launch site in North Queensland, catering for commercial equatorial launches. Talks are also being held regarding development of a South Australian site, to cover polar orbit requirements. This vital piece of space infrastructure is critical to Australia achieving Space Sovereignty, enabling the full process from design, testing, manufacturing and launching all in Australia As well as a critical part of the Australian defence supply chain. Talks are currently underway with the local government departments to secure land to develop a manufacturing hub to supply components, fuel and technical assistance in securing a supply chain and developing Australian Sovereign Capabilities.
Letters of support for a commercial Queensland test site have been lodged to the State Government from a variety of backers, including governmental and commercial entities both local and abroad. Several of these parties have also shown a keen interest in the use of our existing rocket engine test facility.
The RTI Group of companies (Rock Trade Industries and Rocket Technologies International) could not have achieved what has been without the 100% support and backing of its loyal workers, our investors, and suppliers. The backing of our local indigenous leaders and local community is very much sought and respected. To our long time loyal collaborative partners University of Queensland Business School and in particular Dr Belinda Wade and Executive Dean Andrew Griffiths. Without their continual encouragement and support the road may have been too hard. They have been with us through the highs and the lows, and we thank them. From the University of Southern Queensland, we acknowledge Chancellor John Dornbusch, Vice Chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation Professor John Bell, and Professor Peter Schubel, whose belief and understanding in the direction RTI wanted to go has been responsible for the development from the stone age to the space age. We sincerely thank them and their team members who have been a critical key to the achievements of RTI.
Since 2008 the Lockyer Valley Regional Council, the Mayors, councillors, and council departments have played a vital role in assisting with the various applications necessary to see innovators reach their potential. The various Queensland Government departments who have assisted us in achieving Main Roads approval for our innovative products. All the State Government Departments who have guided this application, particularly the Department of State Development. The Mines Department, the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environment and Heritage to name just a few have been instrumental in dealing with the compliances required. The support and encouragement given by Queensland Premier The Honourable Anastasia Palaszczuk MP and Deputy Premier The Honourable Steven Miles MP has been very encouraging and very valued, and our local State Member The Honourable Jim McDonald MP has been shoulder to shoulder beside us in this journey for which we thank him.
Our goal is to see RTI play a significant role facilitating and attracting national and international leading technology companies not just to Queensland but to support the entire Australia Industry with this Space hub development.
The RTI Group are not what you may call a normal company. Since inception, “making a real difference” has been our motivation. Our commitment to research and development has seen more than $12,000,000 invested since 2014, achieving many world-first technological advances. The result has seen the development of new, exciting, and environmentally friendly construction materials. It has been responsible for revaluing our valuable natural resource and aided its preservation into the future by utilizing waste material. These developments have enabled us to increase our workforce by more than double, giving security to all those who are part of the RTI family: our staff, their families, and our suppliers and community. Where possible we use local suppliers first, even purchasing our large volume of diesel from the local garage strengthening our local community, diversifying the economy, and building a strong future for our state. Mining is disruptive and damaging to the environment by nature, but it is vital in the supply chain to achieve the infrastructure necessary for the growth of our nation. Quarries generally operate on a 30-to-40-year life cycle leaving a scar to rehabilitate. The vision for RTI is for total life. To mine in a fashion that is predetermined so the shape allows ongoing use of the mine for centuries minimising the need for greenfield sites
RTI pride themselves on a management process which prioritises PEOPLE, PLANET, PURPOSE. In all decisions the purpose is evaluated: will it benefit our people; will it benefit our planet. This is just the start of an exciting and rewarding development.
Watch this space for future development.