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General document | Summary of Propulsion Technologies: Enabling Sovereign Responsive Access to Space for the Australian Defence Force


Satellite communication, navigation, surveillance and meteorology services are key enablers for the ADF's battlefield awareness and air and missile defence. As the counter-space capabilities of potential adversaries continue to develop, reliance on high-value satellites becomes increasingly risky. Rocket manufacturers and launch service providers are anticipated to offer access to space at a reduced cost and infrastructure footprint compared to traditional methods. The diversity of applicable propulsion technologies has resulted in a range of technology options available to meet a responsive space access capability. This document provides a summary of the current state of the art of major propulsion technologies relevant to Defence responsive access to space, as well as recommendations as to how and where Australia and Defence may best invest to capitalise on advanced technologies to realise sovereign launch capability.

Executive Summary

Australia, like many modern nations, relies heavily on space-based technologies and its reliance will only continue to increase. Many aspects of everyday life is underpinned by orbiting satellites providing on-demand communication, location services and data exchange with millions of other people around the world. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) uses space-based services for satellite communications, positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), intelligence, surveillance, and meteorology. These services are crucial enablers for battle management systems and air and missile defences. As potential adversaries’ counter-space capabilities continue to develop, reliance on high-value satellites for battle space awareness and defence becomes increasingly risky.

There is, however, potential for large augmentation in space based capability, enhanced sovereignty, and much greater resilience to potential failures or adversary counter-space actions. One avenue for such improvement is the development of a sovereign launch capability that could provide rapid re-establishment of crucial ADF and national satellite infrastructure.

Rocket systems and launch service providers are able to, thanks to many advances in technology, offer access to space at a greatly reduced cost and infrastructure footprint. In addition, recent advancements in the capabilities of micro and nano-satellites, small satellite constellations and additive manufacturing present a unique opportunity for Australian industry and Defence to establish an Australian responsive space access capability. This report provides an overview of emerging propulsion technologies and assess the benefits and applicability for responsive space access from an Australian economic and Defence perspective.

Key information


Alexander Ziegeler and Matthew McKinna

Publication number


Publication type

General document

Publish Date

June 2019


Unclassified - public release


Rocket Motors, Propulsion Systems, Propellants, Space Operations, Space Access