NASA rockets set for landmark NT blast off

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

For the first time since 1995 NASA rockets will launch from Australia later this month in an attempt to investigate science phenomena only observable from the southern hemisphere.

The launch from the Northern Territory Arnhem Space Centre owned and run by Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) also marks NASA’s first ever rocket launch from a foreign commercial facility and will be a milestone for Australia’s emerging commercial space sector.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the Australian Government had signed off on three scientific suborbital sounding rockets to be launched from the facility in between late June and mid-April. ELA has spent years working with NASA on the launch.

Equatorial Launch Australia’s Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory

NASA engineers arrived in Australia last year to help prepare ELA’s Arnhem Space Centre for a launch date between June 26 and July 12, depending on weather conditions. Around 75 NASA personnel will be in Australia for the launches.

The facility is located on the Dhupuma Plateau near Nhulunbuy, on the lands of the Gumatj people, who are the traditional custodians and landowners.

The government said the Gumatj people had been consulted on the launch and NASA’s ‘clean range policy’ will see everything involved in the launch removed from the site, while any spent motor cases and payloads will be recovered and returned to the US.

The rockets are planned to investigate heliophysics, astrophysics and planetary science phenomena only observable from the southern hemisphere.

“We can trace Australia’s celebrated connection to the space industry back to the 1950s,” Mr Albanese said in a statement.

“As a nation we have to build on that legacy. This project will bring together global and local industry to take Australia’s space sector into a new era.”

The last time NASA rockets launched from Australia was 1995 when the Royal Australian Air Force launched NASA rockets from the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia.

Industry and Science minister Ed Husic said the upcoming launch represents an important milestone for the burgeoning local space sector and enhances Australia’s reputation as a launch destination.

“We know just how valuable this advancement is to the growth of the Australian space sector,” Mr Husic said.

“Australia has a proud history of scientific endeavours and international collaboration with our allies like the United States.”

Australia established a national space agency under the previous Coalition government. It has been tasked with the development of Australia’s commercial space industry, coordinating domestic activities, and facilitating international engagement.

It is currently operating under a civil space strategy with a goal to triple the size of Australia’s space sector and add an additional 20,000 jobs by 2030.

Overseeing the plan is Enrico Palermo, who was brought in by the federal government in 2021 to run the Australian Space Agency after 14 years at Virgin Galactic.

He said the planned NASA launch is another sign of the industry’s growth in Australia and will strengthen Australia’s global reputation.

“The growth of launch related activities in Australia is helping to open up the full value chain of space activities, which will grow the sector and create new businesses and job opportunities here at home,” Mr Palermo said.

In the last budget, the federal government allocated $1.2 billion on a National Space Mission for Earth Observation focused on improving sovereign capability in designing, building and launching sophisticated satellites in Australia.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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