NASA’s first-ever launch from a commercial site outside the United States took off from the Australian outback late Sunday, in a “historic” moment for the country’s space industry.
In the first of three planned launches from Arnhem Space Center, the rocket, carrying technology similar to the “Little Hubble” telescope, blasted off about 350 kilometers (218 miles) into the night sky.
“It’s a momentous occasion for us as a company in particular, but historic for Australia,” Michael Jones, CEO of Equatorial Launch Australia, told AFP before the flight took off.
Jones, whose company owns and operates the launch site in Australia’s far north, called the site an “next tip” for the country’s space industry, and said the opportunity to work with NASA was a milestone for the country’s commercial space companies.
After a series of rain and wind delays, the suborbital sounding rocket flew into the sky to study the X-rays emitted by the Alpha Centauri A and B systems.
After the rocket reached its peak, the rocket’s payload would capture data on star systems before parachuting back to Earth.
According to NASA, the launch offers a unique glimpse into distant systems and unlocks new possibilities for scientists.
“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the Southern Hemisphere and see targets that we can’t launch from the United States,” said Nikki Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA in Washington, D.C., when announcing the mission.
Jones said the unique location made preparations difficult, with years of work to obtain regulatory approval and the need to transport the missiles on barges to the launch site — about a 28-hour drive from Darwin in northern Australia.
“I think the team will be, you know, a huge relief from what’s been done,” he said.
But with the next launch date of July 4 approaching, the downtime will be short-lived.
“We need, you know, to dust ourselves off, take a day off and then come back to it to get ready for the next launch because it’s just as important.”
It’s the first NASA rocket to be launched from Australia since 1995, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hailed the project as the start of a “new era” for the country’s space industry.
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