Australia Enters the Space Age – History

wresatAustralia’s WRESAT 1967 – History

Weapons Research Establishment Project: WRESAT

Not WotzUp, but a good bit of Australian History. Some Australian Space history for those interested.

On 29 November 1967, Australia became only the fourth country – after the USA, Soviet Union and France – to launch its own satellite from its own territory.

The battery-powered WRESAT weighed about 45 kilograms and was designed in the form of a cone. Three cones (two test and one actual) were constructed in the development phase, and a range of tests were carried out to ensure the satellite’s durability. As well as the durability tests, the final experiment tested the ejection of the protective plate covering the instrumentation during flight. In the early days of rocket and satellite work, countless experiments were lost due to the failure of covers to eject.

The scientific instrumentation carried by WRESAT followed on from previous upper atmospheric research that had been conducted at Woomera using sounding rockets. Among other things, WRESAT’s sensors and detectors measured solar radiation and its effects on temperature and composition of the upper atmosphere. The satellite was able to collect atmospheric information covering the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere and the mid-latitudes of the southern hemisphere – areas where measurements hadn’t previously been taken.

wresatHaving arrived at Woomera from Orroral Valley, and after some final checking and testing of experiment instrumentation, the satellite was transported to its launch vehicle. Reportedly the American team was horrified at the sight of WRESAT bumping around in the back of an open truck. The Australians argued that if it couldn’t withstand the short ride, it was not likely to withstand a lift-off. By launch stage, the rocket had been painted white for ease of tracking.

This sequence of the film is actually a bit misleading. The launch was originally intended for 28 November 1967. The six-hour countdown commenced on time, but was aborted 30 seconds from zero due to the failure of a heating-cooler unit to eject. So although the launch, which took place successfully the following day, was historically very significant, very few dignitaries were there to witness it. During WRESAT’s orbiting life of 42 days, it went around the world 642 times and transmitted scientific data on 73 of them, until its batteries were exhausted.

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