CANBERRA, Australia — NASA will launch a research rocket from Australia’s remote north this month in the agency’s first liftoff from a commercial spaceport outside the United States.
Three suborbital sounding rockets will launch from Arnhem Space Center onto Indigenous-owned land near the Northern Territory mining town of Nhulunbuy on June 26, July 4 and July 12, NASA and the owner of the the launch pad, Equatorial Launch Australia.
The launch site was chosen because it is in the southern hemisphere and close to the equator.
“This commercial launch range in Australia opens up new access to the Southern Hemisphere night sky, expanding the possibilities for future science missions,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. .
The Canadian-designed 12.2-meter (40-foot), 2,200-kilogram (4,900-pound) Black Brant IX rockets would focus on the Alpha Centauri A and B star systems. A third mission would study X-rays emanating from the interstellar medium – clouds of gas and particles in the space between stars.
NASA Heliophysics Division Director Nicky Fox said launches more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) into space “would allow us to explore how light from a star can influence the habitability of ‘a planet, among other things’.