The History of Australia’s Space Program

Australia may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of space exploration, but the country has a long and fascinating history in the field. From tracking and communication with spacecraft to developing their own satellites, Australia has made significant contributions to space exploration.

The beginning of Australia’s involvement in space exploration can be traced back to the early 1950s, when the Woomera Rocket Range was established in the outback of South Australia. The range was used to test rockets and missiles, both for defense purposes and for scientific research.

In the 1960s, Australia’s involvement in space exploration ramped up significantly with the launch of the Apollo program by NASA. Australia played a critical role in tracking the Apollo spacecraft and communicating with the astronauts as they journeyed to the moon. The Parkes Radio Telescope, located in New South Wales, was used to receive the television signals from the moon and broadcast them to the world.

Parkes Radio Telescope
Source: Wikipedia

In addition to supporting NASA’s Apollo program, Australia also began developing its own space capabilities. In 1967, the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) in Salisbury, South Australia, launched its first satellite, the Weapons Research Establishment Satellite (WRESAT). This made Australia the third country in the world to launch a satellite from its own territory, after the Soviet Union and the United States.

WRESAT Launch

The WRESAT mission was a success, and it paved the way for further developments in Australia’s space program. In 1970, the Australian government established the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI), which was later renamed the Australian Space Office (ASO). The ASO was tasked with coordinating Australia’s space activities and promoting the development of space technology in the country.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Australia continued to develop its space capabilities, launching a series of research and communications satellites. In 1985, the Aussat system was launched, providing Australia with its first national satellite communications network. This network allowed for improved telecommunications across the country, particularly in remote and rural areas.

Aussat A1 being launched from the space shuttle

In more recent years, Australia has continued to be an active participant in space exploration, partnering with other countries and organizations to further develop its capabilities. In 2011, the Australian government established the Australian Space Agency, which is responsible for coordinating and promoting Australia’s involvement in space activities.

Today, Australia is involved in a wide range of space-related activities, including satellite communications, Earth observation, space science, and exploration.