Arnhem Land Spaceport’s Date With The Stars

In a world first NASA will launch a rocket from a privately built spaceport in the Northern Territory next year.

In a move hailed by business backers and the Australian government as proof the nation is now a serious contender in space, the US space agency will work with Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) to launch sounding rockets into space from the Northern Territory’s Arnhem Space Centre.

Calling for increased private investment in space, ELA CEO Carley Scott, says the plan is a huge boon to the nascent Australian space industry.

“This is an historic decision, putting the Australian new-space industry on the global map. The plan will open the doors to growth and job opportunities for the space sector worldwide,” she says.

Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Carley Scott.
Photo Credit: Melanie Faith Dove

“NASA has not launched their sounding rockets from a non-government launch site outside of the USA ever before. The plan by NASA to contract ELA firmly embeds Australia as a serious part of the global space sector.

“The 2020 space launch means that the Australian Space Agency’s longer-term goal of 20,000 additional jobs and tripling the size of its industry to $12 billion is increasingly achievable.”

“It’s exciting to be pioneering the development of commercial space launch services in Australia and it’s even more rewarding to be doing it with the world’s leading space agency - one synonymous with cutting-edge space exploration.

“In all things, NASA demands the best, and that is what Australia can offer their southern hemisphere campaign in 2020.”

Scott says NASA’s choice to launch in Australia is a testament to the Arnhem Space Centre’s growing capacity to meet the needs of the most sophisticated customers in the space sector worldwide.

“Global demand for commercial launch sites is growing and we are developing a spaceport with arguably some of the world’s best launching conditions, near the equator in the Northern Territory,” she says.

The global space sector is forecast to be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040. The development of the Arnhem Space Centre increases Australia’s ability to provide the market with access to space and provides a pathway for international collaboration on commercial and research opportunities going forward.

Delivering in 2020 will be a collaborative effort with Yolngu traditional landowners, commercial and non-commercial groups in Australia and elsewhere, literally launching Australia’s space industry.

Scott says the Yolgnu have a relationship with the stars going back 50-plus thousand years - as ancient navigational aids as well as a deeply spiritual connection.

“There are many stories about a group of young women, represented by the seven sisters – the stars in the Pleiades cluster, which attest to the deep resonance the stars have with the traditional owners.”

NASA will use the site to launch 15m sounding rockets, which spend about 15 minutes in suborbital space, to conduct engineering tests and collect scientific data.

The federal government's recently-established space agency says NASA's interest shows the increasing importance of commercial launch activities from Australia.

“As these activities build momentum, the Australian Space Agency will continue its focus on creating a supportive regulatory environment that fosters industry growth, while ensuring public safety and considering our international obligations,” ASA head Megan Clark says.


Lead Image: The artwork on the nose cone is by artist Dorothy Djakangu Yunupingu, called Djulpan (Morning Star). People in the photo are Carley Scott (ELA CEO), Djawa Yunupingu (Board, Gumatj Corporation) and Blake Nikolic (BSA CEO).
Photo Credit: LJM Photography

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