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Christmas Island Space Centre

For a long time, there were two Christmas Islands, one in the Pacific, and one in the Indian Ocean. In the Kiribati language, the name "Kiritimati" is a spelling of the English word "Christmas.

Kiritimati, formerly known as Christmas Island, is the largest coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Like all atolls, Kiritimati hosts a shallow lagoon, which covers a large part of the island’s 575 square kilometers. NASA's short-lived plan in 1959 to transport the Saturn by air was prompted by ABMA's interest in launching a rocket into equatorial orbit from a site near the Equator; Christmas Island in the Central Pacific was a likely choice. Equatorial launch sites offered certain advantages over facilities within the continental United States. A launching due east from a site on the Equator could take advantage of the earth's maximum rotational velocity (460 meters per second) to achieve orbital speed. The more frequent overhead passage of the orbiting vehicle above an equatorial base would facilitate tracking and communications. Most important, an equatorial launch site would avoid the costly dogleg technique, a prerequisite for placing rockets into equatorial orbit from sites such as Cape Canaveral, Florida (28 degrees north latitude).

There were also significant disadvantages to an equatorial launch base: higher construction costs (about 100% greater), logistics problems, and the hazards of setting up an American base on foreign soil. Moreover in 1959 there was a question as to how many U.S. space missions would require equatorial orbits. The only definite plans for equatorial orbits were in connection with communications and meteorological satellites operating at 35,000 kilometers.

Cost alone eliminated the island sites of Mayaguana, Christmas, and Hawaii, where construction and operation costs would be more than twice the estimates for White Sands or Cape Canaveral. The islands also posed severe problems of logistics. On 24 August 1961, NASA announced that it had chosen Merritt Island and that it would buy 323 square kilometers of land for the new NASA launch center.

In October 2001, the Government agreed to support a proposal by the Asia Pacific Space Centre Pty Ltd (APSC, now Soft Star Aerospace Pty Ltd) to build an orbital launch facility on Christmas Island [the Indian Ocean island] through a $100 million Strategic Investment Incentive package covering common-use and spaceport infrastructure on the Island.

The purpose of the Christmas Island Space Centre (APSC Proposal) Ordinance 2001 and the associated regulations was to enable the Asia Pacific Space Centre to make a proposal to the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government to establish a space facility on Christmas Island. The ordinance allowed a proposal to be made—part 2—provides details that must be included in the proposal, required evidence of the commitment and capacity of APSC to carry out the proposal, required APSC to undertake various studies, and outlines considerations that must be part of the minister's decision. The regulations provided criteria for building approvals and compliance certificates. This ordinance continued the process of deferring environmental controls and decisions to some later point.

The original purpose behind the environmental impact assessment requirement was to determine whether or not a development proposal should proceed and, if it should proceed, whether there were better locations for the proposal; and, if it should proceed where proposed, how environmental impacts could be reduced to a minimum. EIA was never intended to be the handmaid of government decisions and approvals. Just as with the detention centre on Christmas Island, the space base began with an approval and environmental controls.

Some of the environmental impacts that are likely to be associated with this proposal include not only the impacts on the seabird populations but also impacts on marine life as a result of disturbance of the fringing reef communities at Flying Fish Cove; the impact of the dumping of rocket junk, like fuel tanks, into ocean drop zones; the impacts of increased traffic and, of course, road use; the impacts on the limestone caverns and the pipistrelle bat; and the impacts on the tourism industry on Christmas Island.

Waiving the requirements of local laws meant that Christmas Island and the Australian community would be excluded from the decision-making processes. There will be no consultation and the Commonwealth can proceed in the secretive way that is becoming its trademark. The Christmas Island space facility was shrouded in secrecy, including the negotiations with the Russians. The immediate reaction of the APSC in mid-2002 was not to open its books and demonstrate that its environmental research was best practice. Instead, the drilling engineers, who were already belatedly fulfilling a condition that should have been completed before the approval — investigating the limestone geology of the launch pad site — were told to leave the site immediately.

In June 2002 the Senate debated a motion to disallow the Christmas Island Space Centre (APSC Proposal) Regulations 2001, as contained in the Territory of Christmas Island Regulations 2001 No. 1, and made under the Christmas Island Space Centre (APSC Proposal) Ordinance 2001; and the Christmas Island Space Centre (APSC Proposal) Ordinance 2001, as contained in the Territory of Christmas Island Ordinance No. 4 of 2001, and made under the Christmas Island Act 1958, and agreed 20 June 2002 not to disallow the regulations and ordinance.

APSC did not complete construction of its spaceport by the deadline of 31 December 2005 stipulated by the Strategic Investment Incentive Deed agreement. Indeed, APSC has not made material progress with construction since preliminary earthworks at the Christmas Island spaceport site ceased in late 2002. It would be appropriate for the Senate Committee to make its own enquiries with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government as to the current status of land entitlements and spaceport construction activities on Christmas Island.

In April 2006, APSC was advised that the Commonwealth would not be extending the deed of agreement beyond 31 December 2005 and that the Commonwealth was withdrawing its offer for the entire $100m Incentive.

Under the Christmas Island Space Centre (APSC Proposal) Repeal Ordinance 2009, the Christmas Island Space Centre (APSC Proposal) Ordinance 2001 was repealed 30 April 2009.

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Page last modified: 08-09-2017 18:32:11 ZULU