Australia is about to launch into space. A NASA sounding rocket is scheduled to launch from the Arnhem Space Centre, located on Yolngu Country outside of Nhulunbuy at 10.44pm local time on June 26.
The space centre is owned and operated by Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), a private company that has created a commercial spaceport in Australia.
When we think of rockets, it is visions of the Saturn V and Cape Canaveral in Florida. This is neither. It is much better; it is Australia's version.
Instead of the swamps near Cape Canaveral, it is the beautiful red dirt. Instead of alligators it is crocodiles. And instead of one group launching the same rocket regularly, it is a range of rockets for a range of groups, including NASA.
Just like an airport with multiple airlines and flights, the Arnhem Space Centre is aiming to be a big spaceport, with multiple rockets per year with multiple groups.
There are three launches scheduled with NASA over the next three weeks. However, ELA is aiming to have tens of launches per year in a few years' time.
This will also be Australia's first ever commercial rocket launch.
Previous launches that happened decades ago were almost always contained to Woomera, which is owned and operated by the federal government and defence, not a private company.
It is also a first for NASA. It is the first time they are launching from a fully commercial spaceport. Usually, they operate it all or at least have a big hand in it.
However, the huge importance of this milestone moment is more than just the science experiment that will be launched. It is a mark of what is happening to the space industry in Australia. It is taking off (pun fully intended).
When the Australian Space Agency was announced at a big international space conference in Adelaide in 2017, launching rockets was not really part of the vision. It is now.
Australia is an ideal place to launch rockets. We have lots of remote land, necessary for safety operations. Moreover though, places like Arnhem Space Centre are at 12 degrees from the equator - and that is a great thing. Rockets like to launch near the equator.
The Earth is spinning at its fastest at the equator, meaning that when launching, it is the fastest way up (or out). We also have access to the Southern Skies, critical for certain experiments (like this first launch).
Australia also has the best access/geography to the south pole, another important spot for satellites. Southern Launch is aiming for rocket launches from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia to both the south pole and equator.
Gilmore Space is building its own rockets and aims to launch them from northern Queensland within a year.
And if you have a place launching dozens of rockets, that means people will flock to visit and see them, just like in Florida. That means tourism, hotels, and other jobs to support it.
This first launch is a sign of all that is to come and more. Imagine in a few years' time during school holidays, going on a road trip to see a rocket launching, in Australia.
That is our future, which launches now.
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