NASA’s use of the Northern Territory for its first launch from a commercial launchpad on foreign soil will help bolster Australia’s space capabilities, the site’s chief financial officer says.
Three suborbital sounding rockets will ascend from the Arnhem Space Centre between June 26 and July 12 in NASA’s first Australian launch since 1995 in Woomera, South Australia.
Equatorial Launch Australia will use the launches as the first steps to building up the centre to become part of Australia’s sovereign launch capability.
The launch site will be capable of 50 launches each year by the middle of the decade.
“Over the next few years, we know that getting into space from Australia is real and sustainable,” chief financial officer Russell Shaw said.
“We see it as a fantastic opportunity for Australia to showcase its capability to the world.”
It comes after Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo this year told an air and space conference in Canberra that Australia’s unique geography, climate and political landscape made it attractive for countries like the US to co-invest in space infrastructure.
Backup launch sites can also be stationed in Australia if allies’ facilities go down to ensure continued access to space, he told the conference.
Communications and navigation systems rely on access to the domain, as do intelligence and surveillance capabilities, banking and the internet.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says Australia needs to continue building on the legacy of the country’s space industry.
“We can trace Australia’s celebrated connection to the space industry back to the 1950s,” he said.
“This project will bring together global and local industry to take Australia’s space sector into a new era.”
But a Mars mission may still remain out of reach in the near future.
“I’m not going to be that ambitious,” Mr Albanese joked with reporters in Darwin on Wednesday.
“But a very good question. One I wasn’t anticipating, I’ve got to say.”
The research rockets will fly 250km into low orbit to monitor heliophysics – the nature and influence of the sun – as well as astrophysics and planetary science only observable from the southern hemisphere.
Around 75 NASA personnel will be in Australia for the launch from the remote space centre, which is owned and operated by Equatorial Launch Australia.
Industry Minister Ed Husic says the launch highlights the importance of bringing the skills and sovereign capability back to Australia.
“Space strengthens our economy, including in regional areas, and creates jobs across a diverse range of skillsets,” he said.
“But for Australians to do that, we need to put that to work into rebuilding capability in this country.
“It’s important for jobs. It’s important for the economy. But if used right … can help improve the quality of life of communities.”
NASA’s clean range policy means everything involved in the launch will be removed from the site and any motor cases and payloads will be recovered and returned to the US.