The rocket blasted off shortly after midnight local time Monday from the Arnhem Space Center on the Dhupuma Plateau near Nhulunbuy Township, according to Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), the center’s developer, owner and operator.
Alpha Centauri has a special meaning for Australia. It is mostly only visible from the southern hemisphere and is one of the “pointers” of the Southern Cross constellation that appears on the country’s flag, according to Reuters.
Monday’s event also made history for Australia as the country’s first commercial space launch. It was the first of three releases, with another two planned for July 4 and July 12. These will carry out astrophysical studies that can only be done from the southern hemisphere, according to NASA.
Michael Jones, CEO and CEO of the ALS group, said it was a historic night.
“We could never have dreamed of having a partner as supportive, experienced and professional as NASA. They have been incredibly generous in helping us on this journey and we will be an even better organization for their support,” Jones said in a statement.
“Today’s launch not only puts ELA at the forefront of global commercial space launch, it also confirms that we and Australia can deliver access to space and this is just the beginning for us,” he added.
Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker, who was on site to observe the launch, said wind and rain beforehand had caused some nervousness about whether it would go ahead.
But after a delay of more than an hour, excitement erupted as the rocket lifted off.
“At that final moment, almost everyone ran outside to see the launch and stare in awe. Even after we lost sight of the rocket, people stayed outside for a long time,” Tucker said.
Tucker said the suborbital missions were aimed at better understanding star systems and whether habitable planets existed there.
NASA is the first customer of 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.
The Arnhem Space Center describes itself as the only commercially owned and operated multi-user equatorial launch site in the world.
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