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NASA successfully launches its first rocket from newly created Arnhem Space Centre

Source: ABCnews

NASA has successfully launched its first rocket from Australian soil in more than a quarter of a century.

After rain and wind delayed the launch by more than an hour, the suborbital sounding rocket took off just after midnight on Monday morning from the newly constructed Arnhem Space Centre, on the remote eastern edge of the Northern Territory.

It marks the first commercial space launch in Australia’s history and NASA’s first rocket launch from a commercial spaceport outside of the United States. 

The rocket — which is expected to fly about 300 kilometres into space above Arnhem Land — is conducting astrophysics studies that can only be undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere, NASA said. 

Sign in red dirt reading Arnhem Space Centre.

Sky lights up ‘in the blink of an eye’

Around 100 VIPs — scientists, politicians, local community members, Indigenous leaders and the media — were shuttled out to watch the launch, from a viewing platform about 800 metres away and not far from the site of the annual Garma Festival.

One person watching on was Yirrkala School co-principal Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, who said it was “unbelievable for something like this to happen here on Yolngu country”.

“It was in the blink of an eye, but to me, it was like it was in slow motion because the whole area just lit up,” she said.

“It went up, and then the sound, it was just like a rumbling boom, like nothing I’ve ever heard.

“And I just shook with amazement.”

The rocket was visible for about 10 seconds, until just before it exited the earth’s atmosphere.

Others in the nearby township of Nhulunbuy also had a chance to catch a brief glimpse of the rocket on its journey skyward, as did residents in nearby remote Yolngu communities and homelands.

Before the launch, dignitaries from both the United States and Australia gathered to speak about the historic moment.

US Consul-General Kathleen Lively said it reaffirmed the “deep partnership” between the two nations.

“Our collaboration is furthering space exploration, to improve our understanding of the solar system and the universe,” she said.

“Today marks a moment that will go down in history for the United States and Australia, in our space collaboration efforts.”

Sign reading Arnhem Space Centre in red dirt
The launch happened from land owned by the Yolngu people.(Michael Franchi )

The launch happened from land owned by the Yolngu people and was heralded by a senior leader of the Gumatj clan, Djawa Yunupingu.

“I’ve always thought this was going to be a new beginning [for the region],” he said.

Two more launches scheduled from Arnhem Land

Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, who was among the VIPs flown in for the occasion, said it was an “extremely proud” moment for Australia.

“Here on Yolngu land, young Territorians can look up at the sky and know what can be done,” Ms Fyles said.

“When we see the oldest living culture combining with the science of space, as we have here, it’s something we can all reflect on and be very proud.”

The inaugural launch was the first of three NASA launches scheduled to take place during June and July this year, with the next expected to blast off on July 4.

ELA Arnhem Space Centre storage container.
Seventy-five NASA personnel travelled to Australia for the launches.(Supplied: ELA)