Rocket carries quantum calorimeter that will be used to observe Alpha Centauri A and B
After a delay due to rain and wind, the sub-orbital rocket carrying technology likened to a “mini Hubble” telescope, blasted off from the Arnhem Space Centre on the Dhupuma plateau at half-past midnight on Monday.
The blast off was the space agency’s first launch from a commercial spaceport outside the US and is reportedly aimed to help scientists conduct studies that can only be undertaken in the southern hemisphere. Monday’s launch was also the first for Australia in nearly 27 years.
The rocket, carrying an X-ray quantum calorimeter, is expected to travel over 186 miles into space to observe the Alpha Centauri A and B constellations. The quantum calorimeter will enable University of Michigan scientists to measure interstellar X-rays with precision and provide new data on the impact of a star’s light on the habitability of planets.
Nearly 75 Nasa personnel were present at the newly constructed launch site and nearly 100 scientists, politicians and Indigenous leaders were shuttled to watch the launch.
“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,” Yirrkala School co-principal Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Nasa had last launched from Australian soil in 1995, when its rockets lifted off from the Royal Australian Air Force Woomera range complex.
“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the southern hemisphere and see targets that we can’t from the United States,” said Nicky Fox, Nasa’s Heliophysics Division director, while announcing the mission, reported news agency AFP.
Northern Territory chief minister Natasha Fyles said in a statement that the launch will provide jobs by attracting global space investors.
“The launching of a rocket from Arnhem Land is an incredible milestone for Australia in establishing the Northern Territory as a launch site and an important player in space exploration,” she said.
Nasa has planned two more launches scheduled for 4 and 12 July.