Australia during sunrise from Earth's orbit in space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
Australia during sunrise from Earth's orbit in space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

NASA picks Australia for rocket launch

NASA has signed a world-first deal with a private Australian spaceport to launch rockets in 2020.

Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory will become the first privately- owned site outside the US to launch NASA rockets.

Equatorial Launch Australia chief executive Carley Scott said the exciting deal was the "single most important event to date" in putting the Australian space industry on the global map.

"What we think the deal will mean is bringing unprecedented growth in the space sector in Australia," she told AAP on Friday.

"We've been pioneering in the area and it's been a lot of hard work to date so when the world's best are prepared to work with us, it's a great endorsement.'

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

The terms of the deal are still being negotiated.

Ms Scott described the proposed 2020 launch date for the NASA flight as "really ambitious and something we'll have to work hard to achieve".

The ASC, located near Nhulunbuy, is expected to be ready to launch small rockets by year-end before the first spaceflights begin next year.

The federal government's recently-established space agency said NASA's interest showed 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 said in a statement.

NASA is increasingly working with commercial partners and plans to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on privately-owned aircraft within the next year.