NASA launched its First Sounding Rocket from private Australian spaceport

NASA's first commercial space launch from Australia, supported by Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA)

Black Brant IX rocket launched XQC (ELA)

NASA launched its first research rocket from remote northern Australia this month in the agency's first blast off from a commercial spaceport outside the United States.

The historic launch is also NASA’s first launch from a fully commercial spaceport and will be one of three rocket launches from the Arnhem Space Center on Indigenous-owned land near the mining town of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. The others two launches are planned for 4 and 12 July, to conduct astrophysics studies that can only be done from the Southern Hemisphere.

Black Brant IX sounding rocket (NASA)

The 12.2-meter (40-foot), 2,200-kilogram (4,900-pound), Canadian-designed Black Brant IX rockets would focus on the Alpha Centauri A and B star systems. A third mission would study X-rays emanating from the interstellar medium—the clouds of gases and particles in the space between stars.

The 1st XQC mission is on its way to suborbital space to measure X-rays coming from the inner part of our galaxy. The entire flight lasted around 15 minutes before the payload safely parachutes back down to Earth.

NASA's Heliophysics Division director Nicky Fox said the launches more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) into space would "allow us to explore how a star's light can influence a planet's habitability among other things."

Arnhem Space Centre

The Arnhem Space Centre is seen on the Gove Peninsula in Australia's Northern Territory (Credit; Equatorial Launch Australia)

The Arnhem Space Centre is the only commercially owned and run multi-user equatorial launch site in the world and is located 12 degrees south of the equator on the Gulf of Carpentaria offering unique benefits for space launches. ASC is also unique as most spaceports are federal/government-owned/operated facilities.

ELA and the Arnhem Space Centre were recently awarded their Launch Facilities Licence and the Launch Permit for the NASA campaign following a two-year evaluation by the Australian Space Agency.

"This commercial launch range in Australia opens up new access to the Southern Hemisphere's night sky, expanding the possibilities for future science missions," NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement.

Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese welcomed the first NASA rocket launch in Australia since 1995. The launch site then was a military rocket range near Woomera in South Australia state.

"This is a really exciting project. This is about not just the rocket launches itself, but it's about sending a message to younger Australians and, indeed, Australians of any age, who might be looking at retraining for future careers, of how important science is," Albanese said.

Michael Jones, Executive Chairman and Group CEO of ELA said that whilst these historic NASA launches were a huge milestone for ELA, the company was already looking to the future beyond the milestone campaign.

“Having NASA as our first customer is not only a great endorsement of our spaceport, but it places us at the forefront of global commercial space and proves that through ELA and the ASC, Australia now has a Sovereign launch capability and access to space,”

“The geographic location, proximity to the equator and the extensive logistics services offered on the Gove/Nhulunbuy area makes the ASC very attractive to global rocket companies and allows us to provide a commercially attractive alternative to the French government’s Kourou equatorial launch site in French Guiana,” Mr Jones said.

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