Company behind NASA’s rocket project has big ambitions

The company behind NASA’s first rocket launch in Australia in over a quarter of a century plans to launch more than 50 rockets annually by 2024.

Northern Territory-based Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) owns the eastern Arnhem Land spaceport from which NASA launched a rocket early Monday morning — the US space agency’s first launch in Australia since 1995.

ELA will help launch two more Rockets from the Arnhem Space Center for the American space agency in July.

But the company’s plans for this year pale compared to its goals by 2024 — by which time it hopes to launch more than one rocket weekly.

An academic specializing in astrophysics told news gear that the country has entered “a really cool era where commercialization means we can get more done.”

Ready to go

Company behind NASA's rocket project has big ambitions

Accelerated at a speed of 500 meters per second, Sunday night’s rocket took seconds to disappear from view.

ELA scientists predicted it would take about 70 seconds to ascend to a suborbital 228 kilometers from Earth.

The rocket carried an X-ray quantum calorimeter, which will measure the gases emanating from the Milky Way galaxy, with scientists from the University of Wisconsin hoping to learn more about the structure and evolution of the cosmos.

After hovering above the Earth for about 15 minutes and collecting images and data, the rocket returned to Earth and landed southwest of the original launch site.

Tweet from @AusSpaceAgency

Why Arnhem Land?

NASA’s choice of Arnhem Land as a launch site may seem a little unlikely, but there are several reasons why it was chosen.

Dr. Sarah Webb, a postdoctoral researcher at Swinburne University’s Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, told news gear that the Milky Way cannot be seen from the US.

“In the southern hemisphere, we have access to slightly different orbits or patterns,” said Dr. Webb.

“It’s just a patch of sky that if you were in the US, you can’t see because you’re just too far north. So many benefits here.”

Arnhem Land also offers enough free airspace for a rocket to travel upwards.

“The airspace must be completely free. Not only the airspace but also the satellite space above where you look at the rocket, you have to have time for that,” she said.

The Arnhem Space Center was built entirely by indigenous residents and is located in a remote part of the Northern Territory.

Another important advantage of the location was its proximity to the equator. Arnhem Space Center is located 12 degrees south of the equator.

“If you launch a rocket from Darwin, you get a speed of about 200 kilometers per hour as you go up — just because you’re closer to the equator, you spin faster,” she said.

“So that’s a huge benefit that saves time, money, and fuel — it’s great.”

‘Just the beginning’

NASA is ELA’s first customer, and the Northern Territory-based company plans to expand its program dramatically in the coming years.

Sunday night’s launch was one of three in this project, with the second rocket taking off from the Arnhem space center on July 4 and the third on July 12.

And the company expects to complete a mind-boggling 50 similar launches per year by 2024 and 2025.

ELA chief executive Michael Jones told news gear that he hopes these first launches are “just the beginning”.

“ELA really hopes this launch will show that Australia and the Arnhem Space Center can provide access to space and that this is just the beginning for the Australian space industry,” he said.

To add to the astonishing numbers, another Australian company has also indicated it plans to complete dozens of launches yearly.

Southern Launch, located in South Australia, was given the official go-ahead to launch rockets earlier this year. CEO Lloyd Damp expressed an intention to eventually conduct 36 launches per year.

Tweet from @LukeGoslingMP

dr. Webb said she expects Australia to continue to play a key role in space exploration.

“We’re entering a really cool era where commercialization means we can get more done,” she said.

“I think it’s a huge achievement that we’ve actually been able to facilitate a launch by NASA.

“Now that we have a proven launch from NASA, I think it’s a great way to say that this is open to commercial business and that we can meet the needs of those who want to watch rockets.”

Natasha Fyles, the Northern Territory’s prime minister, told reporters at Sunday’s launch that the achievement was an important milestone.

“The launch of a rocket from Arnhem Land is an incredible milestone for Australia in establishing the Northern Territory as a launch site and a major player in space exploration,” she said.

“Working with the Gumatj people in launching the rockets into space combines one of the oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.”

Jones said data from the ongoing series of launches will be reviewed by the Universities of Colorado and Wisconsin team, with preliminary results hopefully available in the coming weeks.

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