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NASA is set to launch rockets Northern Territory Spaceport in 2020 – A World First

NASA has picked a privately-owned space center outside the United States to launch its rockets.

A fledgling Australian commercial spaceport, Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), has signed a deal with NASA for the use of the Arnhem Space Center (ASC) as a site to launch its 15-meter-high sounding rockets into space to conduct engineering tests and collect scientific data.

The ASC is located near Nhulunbuy, 700km east of Darwin, and is run by ELA, a joint venture between the Gumatj Corporation, Developing East Arnhem Limited, and the NT Government.

The NASA Sounding Rocket Program is a program of rockets that have been used for scientific purposes. A sounding rocket, also called a “research rocket” is a rocket carrying instruments to take measurements, collect data and perform scientific experiments during a sub-orbital flight.

The Kármán line, which is the altitude at which space begins, is about 62 miles or 100 km high. For more than forty years, the NASA Sounding Rocket Program has been used by universities and other researchers to launch scientific instruments into space and to conduct upper atmosphere research.

These rockets, rising to about an altitude of 300 kms spend about 15 to 20 minutes in space or the upper atmosphere, follow a parabolic path and may land over 100 km from their launch site which is most frequently at the NASA Wallop’s Island, Virginia facility in the United States. However, due to logistics or other issues, the rockets and their payloads often cannot be recovered.

The location of the ELA facility in the Northern Territory offers a higher possibility of recovery. The site is highly favored for rocket launches due to its location near the equator, where there is also a low population base, minimal surrounding infrastructure, and low trade within the proximities.

ELA Chief Executive, Carley Scott says, “It’s a very efficient location, so geography is quite helpful in this case”, adding, “When you’re close to the equator you often get a greater efficiency for the rocket launch. It throws your rocket off more quickly, so you need less fuel.”

The deal with NASA is an important achievement for ELA, but it is also great leap forward for other Australian space startups. Scott thinks “that the deal will mean … bringing unprecedented growth in the space sector of Australia”

This historic move is expected to put the nascent Aussie space industry on the global map and also create more jobs for this remote area with hopes that the national government will provide more funding for the space program industry.

Takeaway points:

  • Four rockets to launch from the Arnhem Land spaceport in 2020.
  • NASA selected the site because of its unique geographical features, particularly that it is close to the equator.
  • A territory with a lower population base means more opportunities for space launches.
  • Last year, the Australian Government located Australia’s Space Agency in Adelaide. More news to come soon/li>

Jaclyn-Mae Floro, BCompSc

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Disclaimer. The material in this post represents general information only and should not be taken to be legal advice.

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