Historic launch for NASA: space rocket leaves Australia for first time
NASA’s first space flight from a commercial site outside the United States lifted off from Australia this Sunday, which is considered a historic event for the country’s space industry. The rocket carries a small space telescope that has been described as a “mini Hubble” and lifted off at up to 350 km altitude during a clear, starry night. This is the first of three flights planned to take off from the Arnhem space center in northern Australia. The next launch is expected to take place on July 4.
The president of Equatorial Launch Australia, Michael Jones, confessed before liftoff that “it is a historic moment for us as a company, but it is also historic for Australia”. For her part, the director of NASA’s heliophysics department, Nicky Fox, declared that “we are impatient to be able to launch important scientific missions from the Southern Hemisphere and observe targets that we cannot see from the United States”.
The Arnhem Space Center is the world’s first and only commercially owned and operated southern launch site. Australia has stepped up its space efforts in recent times, introducing a defense agency focused on countering Russian and Chinese ambitions in space.
As for the scientific aspect of the launch, the rocket is carrying a space telescope that is to study starlight. The data collected will help unravel the secrets of stars up to 430 million light-years away. The main equipment is a large X-ray camera (more exactly a X-ray quantum calorimeter) that observes astronomical phenomena in the Milky Way and particularly in the Alpha Centauri star cluster. Scientists hope it will help them understand the relationship between the light from a star and the habitability of nearby planets.