NASA has successfully launched a rocket from the remote wilderness of the Northern Territory – the first commercial space launch in Australia’s history.
Troublesome winds caused the countdown to be aborted several times before the first of three scheduled rockets finally launched at about half past midnight local time early on Monday – towards the end of a three hour launch window – from the Arnhem Space Centre on the Dhupuma Plateau, near Nhulunbuy.
It is the space agency’s first launch from a commercial spaceport and is doing to help scientists explore how a star’s light can influence a planet’s habitability.
The rocket is carrying an X-ray Quantum Calorimeter, allowing University of Michigan scientists to measure interstallar X-rays with precision to provide new data on the structure and evolution of the cosmos.
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About 75 NASA personnel are in Arnhem Land for the launch, which is the agency’s first in Australia in 27 years and first-ever from a commercial spaceport outside the US.
NASA last launched from Australia in 1995, when its rockets lifted off from the Royal Australian Air Force Woomera Range Complex in South Australia.
The Yolngu helped build Arnhem Space Centre, which is owned by Equatorial Launch Australia, on their land.
They’re also taking part in the upcoming launch, including retrieving rocket modules when they return to Earth.
Gumatj Corporation chairman Djawa Yunupingu says the space industry can provide opportunities for the 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,” he said in a statement.
NSA will launch another two rockets from the ELA complex on July 4 and July 12.
Those will have a probe to measure ultraviolet light and the structure of stars.
NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles says the launch will help attract global space investors to the Territory, which will provide jobs.
“The launching of a rocket from Arnhem Land is an incredible milestone for Australia in establishing the Northern Territory as a launch site and an important player in space exploration,” she said in a statement.
“Working with the Gumatj people in launching the rockets into space combines one of the oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.