NASA Just Launched Another Rocket From the Arnhem Space Centre in the NT

NASA Just Launched Another Rocket From the Arnhem Space Centre in the NT
Image: ELA

On the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory sits the Arnhem Space Centre. It’s developed, owned and operated by a company by the name of Equatorial Launch Australia. While the company name might be a little on the bland side, what it has been doing over the last few weeks is anything but.

Equatorial Launch Australia, which also goes by ‘ELA’, made Australia’s first commercial space launch, alongside its client, NASA.

The launch took place on Sunday June 26, 2022. The broadcast goes for a little over 2.5 hours, but here it is if you missed it:

It then completed a second launch with NASA overnight. The launch was for the Suborbital Imaging Spectrograph for Transition region Irradiance from Nearby Exoplanet host stars, or SISTINE, mission for the University of Colorado, Boulder. Preliminary analysis shows that good data was received by the science instrument during the flight, NASA said.

“Tonight we were delighted to achieve another successful launch which further strengthens the capabilities of our team and of the Arnhem Space Centre,” ELA executive chairman Michael Jones said on Wednesday night.

“In the lead up to the launch, I was consistently asked if I was excited. I can officially now say, I’m excited. I’m excited both about the success of our launch but also for the future of ELA and the Australian space industry,” he had said after the first launch.

The launch was NASA’s first from a fully commercial spaceport. In total, three scientific suborbital sounding rockets will be launched between 26 June and 12 July 2022 from the Arnhem Space Centre. The last is planned for July 12.

This marks the first time NASA launches rockets from a commercial facility outside of the U.S.. They’re also the first NASA rockets launched from Australia since 1995, when launches were conducted from the Royal Australian Air Force Woomera Range Complex.

Around 75 NASA personnel will be in Australia for the launches. The NASA missions will investigate heliophysics, astrophysics and planetary science phenomena only observable from the southern hemisphere.

Why did NASA pick the Arnhem Space Centre? Well, given it’s located 12 degrees south of the equator on the Gulf of Carpentaria, the centre offers unique benefits for space launches. ELA touted the centre as also being unique, as most spaceports are government owned and/or operated facilities.

“We could never have dreamed of having such a supportive, experienced and professional partner as NASA. They have been unbelievably generous in helping us through this journey and we will be a much better organisation for their support,” Jones added.

The Arnhem Space Centre is located on the Dhupuma Plateau near Nhulunbuy, on the lands of the Gumatj people, who are the Traditional Custodians and Landowners. According to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has thrown his support around the endeavour, traditional owners have been consulted as part of the approval process.

Jones said the company is already in advance commercial discussions with nine other major rocket companies. He also said ELA hopes to carry out at least two additional launches in 2022 before ramping up its launch cadence to over 50 (!!!) launches per year by 2024/25.

Arnhem Space Centre
Arnhem Space Centre. Image: Equatorial Launch Australia

Sunday’s launch took place in the late evening, with the BBIX rocket travelling to over 300 kms in space. The rocket is carrying an atmospheric observation/sensing platform to observe the Alpha Centauri A & B constellations. The rockets’ first stage and payload will return to Earth and be recovered. The second rocket carried the science instrument to an altitude of 243 km before descending by parachute and landing southwest of the launch site. Recovery operations of the science instrument and the rocket motors are in progress.

The rockets will be visible to NT locals from only seconds after liftoff – which is about 150 metres into the sky, until just prior to it exiting the Earth’s atmosphere.

This article has been updated since it was first published.