NASA launches the first rocket from the Australian Space Center

The rocket exploded just after midnight local time Monday from the Arnhem Space Center on the Dhupuma plateau, near the town of Nhulunbuy, according to Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), the developer, owner and operator of the center.

The rocket is expected to travel more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) into space on its mission to observe the Alpha Centauri A and B constellations – the closest star systems to Earth.

Alpha Centauri has a special meaning for Australia. It is mostly only visible from the southern hemisphere and is one of the “pointers” to the Southern Cross constellation that appears on the country’s flag, according to Reuters.

Monday’s event also made history for Australia as the first commercial space launch in the country. It was the first of three launches, with two more scheduled for July 4 and July 12. These will perform astrophysical studies that can only be done from the southern hemisphere, according to NASA.

Michael Jones, CEO and CEO of ELA, said it was a historic evening.

“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 want to be a much better organization for their support,” Jones said in a statement. .

“Today’s launch not only puts ELA ahead of the global commercial space launch, it also confirms that we and Australia can provide access to space, and this is just the beginning for us,” he added.

Astrophysicist Brad Tucker from the Australian National University, who was on site to see the launch, said that wind and rain in advance had created some nervousness about whether it would continue.

But after a delay of more than an hour, tension broke out as the rocket took off.

“Lately, almost everyone ran out to see the launch and looked in awe. Even after we lost sight of the rocket, people stood outside for so long,” Tucker said.

Tucker said that suborbital missions were aimed at better understanding the star systems and whether there were any habitable planets there.

NASA is the first client for 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 hot gases that fill the space between stars.

Arnhem Space Center describes itself as the only commercially owned and operated multi-user equatorial launch site in the world.