NASA rocket recovery mission all but completed ahead of its second Arnhem Land launch

NASA has overcome unusual challenges to collect all but one piece of the rocket 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 blasted off in the early hours of Monday morning.

Yolngu rangers assisted with recovery efforts and said the mission headed into some tough terrain.

“We’ve got buffaloes and snakes around, you have to be careful,” Djawa “Timmy” Burarrwanga, the managing director of Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation, said.

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

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

“I think it’s very important to know what’s happening with the rockets, and environmentally see how [the space companies] look after the land,” Mr Burarrwanga said.

One final piece of the rocket has been located but was inaccessible this week due to prolonged poor weather.

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The rocket successfully launched from the Arnhem Space Centre.

Politician raises concerns

Amid the retrieval efforts, an Arnhem Land politician has raised questions about the safety of, and the consultation done prior to, the mission.

The concerns come just days out from NASA’s second launch.

Yingiya Guyula, the independent member for Mulka, which covers the new Arnhem Space Center where NASA is conducting launches, said he had “grave fears” about where the pieces of the rocket were ending up, including on Mimal land in central Arnhem Land.

“It was something that should’ve been looked at more carefully,” Mr Guyula said.

“Our concerns are about retrieving the rockets, and where they land.

Yingiya Guyula points at a map.
Arnhem Land politician Yingiya Guyula wants to see more consultation about the rocket retrieval process.
ABC News: Michael Franchic

“What are the steps when there are bits and pieces falling out of the sky, and how safe is it to land in an area?

“There are people out there who live on the land, they hunt and move along that area. Like I’ve been saying time and time again, Arnhem Land is not empty land.”

Three rangers with a piece of a rocket.
Mimal Rangers worked with NASA to track down the returned-to-earth rocket.Supplied: ELA

The Northern Territory parliamentarian said he believed more consultation should have been done with landowner groups down-range of the rocket launches prior to the recovery efforts taking place.

Mr Guyula said he did not have a problem with business development in Arnhem Land but wanted proper processes to be followed.

ELA defends consultation

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

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