The rocket exploded on Monday shortly after midnight local time from the Arnhem Space Center on the Dhupuma Plateau, near the city of Nhulunbuy, according to Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), the center’s developer, owner and operator.
Alpha Centauri has special significance for Australia. It is mostly visible only from the southern hemisphere and is one of the “pointers” to the constellation of the Southern Cross that appears on the country’s flag, according to Reuters.
Monday’s event also went down in Australian history as the country’s first commercial space launch. It was the first of three launches, with a further two planned for July 4th and 12th. It will conduct astrophysical studies that can only be reported from the southern hemisphere, according to NASA.
Michael Jones, CEO and CEO of ELA Group, said it was a historic night.
“We could never dream of having such a supportive, experienced and professional partner as NASA. They were incredibly generous in helping along the way, and we will be a much better organization to support them,” Jones said in a statement.
“Today’s launch not only puts ELA at the forefront of the global commercial space launch, but 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 site to observe the launch, said wind and rain had previously caused nervousness about whether it would continue.
But after more than an hour of delay, excitement erupted when the rocket took off.
“Lately, almost everyone has run outside to see the launch and to watch in awe. Even after we lost sight of the rocket, people have been standing outside for so long,” Tucker said.
Tucker said suborbital missions are aimed at better understanding stellar systems and whether there are habitable planets there.
NASA is the first client for a commercial spaceport operated by ELA, and 70 of its staff have traveled to Australia on three missions.
The U.S. 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 equatorial launch site in commercial ownership and multi-user management in the world.
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