The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has launched a DART rocket with a first space payload from Koonibba Rocket Range in South Australia.

This marks the launch of the first commercial rocket to space from Australia.

The DART is 3.4m-long and weighs 34kg. It is said to be a fraction of the size of Nasa and SpaceX rockets.

The Government of Australia has planned to invest A$7bn over the next ten years to boost space capabilities as part of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan.

Australia Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “The rocket will carry a prototype radio frequency receiver unit designed for airforce.

“The payload, carried on a DART rocket, provides a stepping stone for airforce to explore how advanced rapidly deployable networked sensors can be employed to provide information across defence networks.

“Airforce’s Plan Jericho has sponsored this prototype, developed by DEWC Systems, and marks an exciting future for Australia’s space capability.”

Australian Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said the launch of the DART rocket demonstrates the opportunities for commercial and government applications.

The rocket launch is a part of the RAAF Plan Jericho advanced sensing programme aimed at detecting and tracking challenging targets. It also includes the launch of high-altitude balloons.

Price said: “Airforce’s advanced sensing capability is being enhanced by working with leading Australian industry partners, Southern Launch, DEWC Systems, and Dutch company, T-Minus Engineering.”

Last month, Earth Observant (EOI) secured a US Air Force (USAF) contract under the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) programme for the development of a very low Earth orbit (VLEO) optical payload.