NASA‘s first spaceflight from a commercial site outside the US took off Sunday night from Australia, a “historic” event for the country’s space industry. It is the first of three flights scheduled to take off from the Arnhem space center (northern Australia). The rocket, which carries a small space telescope described as a “mini Hubble,” took off at up to 350 kilometers in altitude.
“It’s a historic moment for us as a company, but it’s also historic for Australia,” Equatorial Launch Australia president Michael Jones told AFP before liftoff. His company owns and operates the launch site located in the north of the island. Jones called Sunday’s liftoff a “coming out” for the Australian space industry and declared himself lucky to be working with NASA. After several delays due to rain and wind, the suborbital sounder rocket set off to study the X-rays emanating from the stars Alpha Centauri A and B, which together form a binary star.
After reaching its apogee, the rocket’s payload must record data about the binary system before re-descending to earth with the aid of a parachute. According to NASA, the launch offers a unique insight into other solar systems and new scientific opportunities. “We can’t wait to launch important scientific missions from the southern hemisphere and observe targets that we can’t see from the United States,” said Nicky Fox, director of NASA’s heliophysics department, presenting the mission in Washington. The next release is scheduled for July 4.