Australia’s first ever commercial rocket launch took place in the early hours of Monday morning as a NASA rocket took off from the Arnhem Space Centre just outside Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory.
It was first of three sounding rockets NASA is launching from the Arnhem Space Centre, a launch site outside Nhulunbuy that is operated by Equatorial Launch Australia.
Michael Jones, CEO of Equatorial Launch Australia, said he was excited about what the launch means for Australia’s burgeoning space industry.
“Today’s launch not only puts [Equatorial Launch Australia] at the forefront of global commercial space launch, it also confirms that we and Australia can provide access to space and this is just the beginning for us.”
The Arnhem Space Centre was built on Aboriginal land and has been developed in concert with the Gumatj Corporation and the local Yolngu people.
“We want our young people to see and take up the jobs and business opportunities that come from the growth of the Arnhem Space Centre over time,” Djawa Yunipingu, Chairman of the Gumatj Corporation, said in a statement.
Aboard Monday morning’s suborbital space flight was an X-ray quantum calorimeter experiment from the University of Wisconsin.
The calorimeter was carried to an altitude of around 300km where it collected data about X-rays from interstellar space before slowly making its way back down to Earth.
We're pleased to announce the successful completion of Australia's first ever commercial space launch with @NASAExpeditions.— Equatorial Launch Australia (@ela_space) June 26, 2022
The launch took place at 12:00am (ACST) and saw a BBIX rocket travel over 300 kms in space to observe the Alpha Centauri A & B constellations. pic.twitter.com/IB2CjxDsC1
Over the next two weeks, NASA will launch devices from the University of Colorado (Boulder, US) that measure how stars’ ultraviolet light interacts with the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets and so-far unknown parts of the stars’ ultraviolet light spectrum.
Scott Bissett, Deputy Chief of NASA’s Sounding Rockets Program Office, said the location in north-eastern Arnhem Land was the ideal testing environment for these experiments.
“For these three missions, we’re looking at southern hemisphere targets,” he said.
“They’re very expensive telescopes that we’d like to get back so having a land-based range with a lot of wide-open area where we can bring these payloads back down on a parachute is critical.”
Along with being Australia’s first commercial space flight, the rocket launch was NASA’s first from a commercial, non-government operated site.
Head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palermo, said it was a “proud night for the Australian space sector”.
“This is another signal that Australia is go for launch – and will further cement our reputation as a nation that global space players want to do business with,” he said.