Rocket Range Australia, 1950s Style

The Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) of Australia just released a digitized version of a 1957 film documentary on Australia’s rocket research back in the day ( see video below the break ). The Woomera test range is an isolated place about 500 km northwest of Adelaide ( 2021 population 132 ) and hosts a small village, an airstrip, and launch facilities. In the Salisbury suburb of Adelaide, a former WW2 munitions factory complex was repurposed as a research center for rockets and long range weapons.

The documentary showcases a wide variety of state-of-the-art technologies from the late 1950s. As ancient as those appear today, a lot of the basic concepts haven’t changed — careful choreography of the launch countdown sequence of events, the antenna and radio systems to receive and store rocket telemetry, photographic records of the rocket in flight, and post-flight analyses of everything to fix problems and improve your designs. They tried to do as much as possible at the Salisbury campus, because as the narrator notes, it’s expensive to work at the distant test range, a concept which is still a consideration today. There’s even a glimpse of the residents’ leisure life in the barren village. It was a different time, to say the least. Continue reading “Rocket Range Australia, 1950s Style”

Historical Satellite Tracker Saved From Scrap Heap

In a bit of rare Australian space news, theĀ  Arnhemland Historical Society has managed to save one of the satellite trackers used during the 1960s and 1970s from the scrap heap. As the Space Race intensified during the 1950s and 1960s, every nation wanted a piece of this new technology. A number of European nations banded together in the form of ELDO, the European Launcher Development Organisation.

Australia was a partner in this program, with launches of the Europa-1 and Europa-2 rockets taking place from Woomera, South Australia. Initially the UK’s cancelled Blue Streak IRBM program provided the first stage for Europa-1, but this was later replaced with the French Diamant. France also provided the Coralie second stage in addition to the German-developed Astris third stage.

The satellite tracker being dismantled at the South Australian defence base before it was trucked north. (Photo: Arnhemland Historical Society)

The first launch of the Europa-1 took place in 1966, with the rocket performing well, but inaccurate readings from a radar station leading to the rocket to be wrongly instructed to self-destruct. Of nine launches, four were successful, with the satellite trackers at Arnhemland providing tracking support. Ultimately, the many technical setbacks led to the demise of ELDO, and it was merged by the 1970s into what is now the European Space Agency, with its main launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

Despite the lack of success, these early days at Woomera were instrumental in getting Europe’s feet wet in the development of the Ariane rockets. Woomera’s rocketing days may also not be over yet, with NASA having announcedĀ  in 2019 plans to use Woomera for launches.

Maybe one day Arnhemland will have its own space port, with the old satellite track on display to remind of those early days.

[Top photo: The ELDO satellite trackers were state-of-the-art when they stood in Gove in the 1960s. (Supplied: Arnhemland Historical Society)]

(Thanks, David)