The US Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a rocket from the remote desert in northern Australia, Sunday evening, in the first commercial launch into space in Australia and the first for the agency from a commercial spaceport.
The semi-orbital rocket will be seen briefly seconds after launch, which is scheduled at (1344 GMT) and will travel 300 kilometers into space.
Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker, who will be within 400 meters of the launch pad at Arnhem Space Center, said Australia’s dry environment and proximity to the equator provide ideal conditions for space launches.
“There are not many places close to the equator like Arnhem, which is 12 degrees (only), and there are not particularly places near the equator where the air is dry and stable. Florida, where Cape Canaveral is, is somewhat swampy,” he added. Referring to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA said three launches from Arnhem Space Center in June and July will help it explore how the light of a star can affect a planet’s habitability.
Today’s mission will carry detectors to measure X-rays produced by the hot gases that fill the space between stars to help study how they affect the formation and evolution of galaxies, NASA added in a statement.
Tucker said the second and third missions in July will monitor Alpha Centauri, the closest star to Earth and the closest to the Southern Cross constellation that appears on the Australian flag. The constellation and Alpha Centauri can only be seen in the sky of the southern hemisphere.
“The big goal is to find out if there are Earth-like planets around it,” he added. He said that scientists have been waiting for ten years to launch a missile from the southern hemisphere. It will be visible for 10-50 seconds.
“100 seconds after launch, the science teams will start working and you’ll have control of the telescope on board … and you’ll know right away how well it worked,” Tucker said.
NASA is the first customer of the commercial spaceport operated by Equatorial Launch Australia, and 70 NASA employees have traveled to Australia for the three missions.
The payload and the missile will return to Earth this evening as well.
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