NASA successfully launched a rocket from Australia Far Northern Territory, made history as the agency’s first commercial spaceport outside the United States.
The rocket lifted off at just under midnight local time on Monday from the Arnhem Space Center on Doboma Plateau, near the town of Nolonby, according to Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), the developer, owner and operator of the center.
The missile is expected to travel more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) outer space On its mission to observe the constellations Alpha Centauri A and B – the closest star systems to Earth.
Alpha Centauri holds a special meaning for Australia. It can mostly be seen only from the southern hemisphere and is one of the “indicators” of the Southern Cross constellation that appears on the country’s flag, according to Reuters.
Monday’s event also made history for Australia as the country’s first commercial space launch. This was the first of three launches, with two more scheduled for July 4 and July 12. These will be conducted by astrophysical studies that can only be done from the Southern Hemisphere, according to NASA.
It was a historic night, said Michael Jones, CEO and CEO of ELA Group.
“We could never have dreamed of having such a supportive, experienced and professional partner as NASA. They have been incredibly generous in helping us through this journey and we would be a much better organization to support them,” Jones said in a statement.
“Today’s launch not only puts ELA at the forefront of the global commercial launch of space, but also confirms that we and Australia can provide access to space and this is just the beginning for us,” he added.
Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker, who was on site to watch the launch, said wind and rain had caused some tension over whether it would last.
But after a delay of more than an hour, excitement erupted as the rocket took off.
“In that last time, almost everyone ran outside to watch the launch and watch it in awe. Even after we lost sight of the rocket, people stood outside for a long time,” Tucker said.
The suborbital missions are aimed at better understanding stellar systems and whether there are any habitable planets, Tucker said.
NASA is the first customer of the commercial spaceport operated by ELA and 70 of its employees have traveled to Australia for the three missions.
The US space agency said the mission will study the evolution of galaxies by measuring X-rays produced by the hot gases that fill the space between stars.
Arnhem Space Center describes itself as the world’s only commercially owned and operated multiuser tropical launch site.
“Extreme travel lover. Bacon fanatic. Troublemaker. Introvert. Passionate music fanatic.”