NASA rocket recovery mission nearly complete ahead of second launch from Arnhem Land

NASA overcame unusual challenges to recover all but one of the rocket elements launched from Arnhem Land on Monday morning, officials said.

Pieces of the suborbital sounding rocket were tracked as far as 220 kilometers from the launch pad near Nhulunbuy, from where it lifted off in the early hours of Monday morning.

Yolngu rangers assisted in recovery efforts and said the mission was heading into difficult terrain.

“We have buffaloes and snakes around, you have to be careful,” said Djawa “Timmy” Burarrwanga, chief executive of Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.

Using a helicopter, NASA’s advanced mapping technology and Yolngu’s tracking knowledge, Burarrwanga said the group was able to recover most of the rocket’s parts.

Djawa “Timmy” Burarrwanga (left), his grandson Dhimurru and Ben Tett with rocket parts.(Provided: ELA)

“I think it’s very important to know what’s going on with the rockets and to see how [the space companies] take care of the land,” Mr. Burarrwanga said.

A final piece of the rocket was located but was inaccessible this week due to prolonged bad weather.

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The rocket was successfully launched from Arnhem Space Center.

A concerned politician

Amid recovery efforts, an Arnhem Land politician raised questions about security and pre-mission consultation.

The concerns come days before NASA’s second launch.

Yingiya Guyula, the freelance member of Mulka, which covers the new Arnhem Space Center where NASA is carrying out launches, said he had “serious fears” about where the pieces of the rocket would end up, including on Mimal land in central Arnhem Land.

“This is something that should have been looked at more carefully,” Mr Guyula said.

“Our concern is with the recovery of the rockets and where they land.

Yingiya Guyula shows a map.
Arnhem Land politician Yingiya Guyula wants to see more consultation on the rocket recovery process.
(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“What are the stages when there are pieces falling from the sky, and how safe is it to land in an area?

“There are people there who live on the land, they hunt and move along this area. As I have said time and time again, Arnhem Land is not an empty land. “

Three rangers with a piece of rocket.
Mimal Rangers worked with NASA to find the rocket returned to Earth.(Provided: ELA)

The Northern Territory parliamentarian said he believed more consultation should have been held with landowner groups downstream of the rocket launches ahead of recovery efforts.

Mr Guyula said he had no problem with business development in Arnhem Land, but wanted the proper processes to be followed.

ELA defends consultation

Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), the company behind the new spaceport, has strongly defended the consultation process and dismissed Mr Guyula’s safety concerns.

ELA chief executive Michael Jones said NASA and ELA had undertaken risk assessments and hazard probability studies and had been cleared by the Australian regulator.

“You have a better chance of one of the planes flying into Australia flying in and hitting your house, a much higher probability, than having some of those rockets hit you,” Mr Jones said.

The body responsible for consulting indigenous landowners on these issues, the Northern Lands Council, said in a statement that it too believed the proper consultation work had been done.

“The NLC understands that ELA is engaging with Native Guard groups in East Arnhem Land as part of the safety and recovery processes in place for each launch,” a spokesperson said.

“The NLC will, of course, conduct a review after the first round of launches.”

William Mungul Gumbula works on a computer inside a radio production booth.
Yolngu Radio broadcaster and producer William Mungul Gumbula helped broadcast information about the rockets in the Yolngu Matha languages.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

ELA said it consulted around 26 landowner groups in the Northern Territory and also worked with local indigenous broadcaster Yolngu Radio to deliver the message in the Yolngu Matha languages.

The company also said it met with Mr Guyula to discuss his security concerns before speaking to the ABC.

NASA’s next launch from Arnhem Space Center is scheduled for 8:24 p.m. on Monday July 4 and should be visible from across the Gove Peninsula.

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