The rocket lifted off just after midnight local time on Monday from Arnhem Space Center on the Dhupuma Plateau, near Nhulunbuy Township, according to Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), the centre’s developer, owner and operator.
Alpha Centauri has a special meaning for Australia. It is mainly visible only from the Southern Hemisphere and is one of the “pointers” to the Southern Cross constellation that appears on the country’s flag, according to Reuters.
Monday’s event also made Australian history as the country’s first commercial space launch. It was the first of three launches, with two more scheduled for July 4 and July 12. These will perform astrophysical studies that can only be done from the southern hemisphere, according to NASA.
Michael Jones, Executive Chairman and CEO of ELA Group, said it was a historic night.
“We could never have dreamed of having such a supportive, experienced and professional partner as NASA. They have been incredibly generous in helping us through this journey and we will be a much better organization for their support,” said 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 provide access to space and this is just the beginning. for us,” he added.
Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker, who was on hand to witness the launch, said the wind and rain 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 last hour, almost everyone ran outside to see the launch and watch in awe. Even after losing sight of the rocket, people stayed out for so long,” Tucker said.
Tucker said suborbital missions are aimed at better understanding star systems and finding out if there are any habitable planets.
NASA is the first customer of the commercial spaceport operated by ELA and 70 of its employees 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.
Arnhem Space Center describes itself as the only commercially owned and managed multi-user equatorial launch site in the world.