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NASA rocket launch sees Northern Territory town of Nhulunbuy focus in on its post-mining future

Tourist Bruce Wilson watched the NASA rocket launch from Nhulunbuy.  (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

NASA's first Australian rocket launch in decades has helped fuel a mini-tourism boom in a remote Northern Territory township, with travellers gathering to witness the rare moment.

The suborbital sounding rocket was launched into space from the newly built Arnhem Space Centre in the early hours of Monday, marking the company's first ever commercial space launch outside of the United States.

Among those who witnessed the rocket's trail into space were Toni and Bruce Wilson, Sydneysiders who had travelled to Nhulunbuy as part of a four-wheel-drive motoring club holiday.

"I think it's going to be a great thing for this area to have these launches happening, it's going to add to the already amazing adventure that you can have in this place," Ms Wilson said.

"It's the first launch I've ever seen … when we heard about it we were thrilled that we could be here to see it, it's not something that you can do every day."

Toni Wilson was among those who travelled to watch the rocket launch. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Accommodation providers in the East Arnhem Land township of Nhulunbuy have been booked out for weeks.

And it's not just tourists filling up the hotel rooms – dozens of NASA staff have also taken up residence in the town's main lodge, leaving few vacant rooms for the coming weeks, despite high demand.

Business groups hope the space industry could eventually bring renewed focus to the region. (Michael Franchi )

Businesses eye space for region's future

Nhulunbuy business groups believe the space industry could be tapped into significantly over the coming years, with an eye on "launch tourism" to attract more people to the region.

Paul Dobing, the chief executive of Developing East Arnhem Limited, said the new commercial spaceport offered an added incentive for tourists to visit the far-flung corner of northern Australia.

"It gives us the opportunity to create a really unique experience," he said.

"And ultimately, on the traditional lands of the Yolngu people, I mean, they're the original astronomers; 60,000-odd years of history related to sky country and the stars.

"How we can bring all of that together, that's a key focus for us over the next few years."

NASA will be launching another two rockets from the Northern Territory in the coming weeks.  (Supplied: ELA)
Business owner Donna-Marie Grieve wants to see more certainty for town businesses. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Nhulunbuy business owner Donna-Marie Grieve said the space industry offered hope after the expected closure of its main employer, a Rio Tinto bauxite mine, in less than a decade.

"It would open up new avenues and opportunities within our community," Ms Grieve said, who also sits on the board of the town's reconstruction committee.

"It's also a turning point in tourism in East Arnhem Land – a unique opportunity to come and see something that's not offered anywhere else in Australia."

The NT could soon reap the benefits of a new Australian Space Agency, updated regulation and an era of small satellites. (Supplied: NASA)

The company that runs the spaceport, Equatorial Launch Australia, has previously flagged that it has long-term ambitions of creating tourism infrastructure around its spaceport, from which it hopes to eventually facilitate up to 50 launches per year.

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