Australia in Space

The exploration of space was seen as the greatest adventure of the Twentieth Century, while in the Twenty First Century space-based services have become an integral part of our daily lives. Although it is not often recognised, Australia has had its part to play in setting the world on the road to the stars and was one of the earliest nations to launch its own satellite. Today, the country is one of the largest users of space-based services.

This revised and updated edition of Space Australia tells the story of Australia’s involvement with space activities, from the earliest rocketeers to the latest satellite projects. It describes the vision, high hopes and achievements of professional space scientists and engineers, in both the civil and defence spheres, as well as the inspired amateurs and the new-breed of young space entrepreneurs who want to contribute to Australia’s space future. The book also highlights the challenges of maintaining an Australian commitment to space activities through changing political and economic circumstances.


About the Author

Kerrie Dougherty

Kerrie Dougherty is a freelance curator, historian, educator and writer, with more than thirty years’ experience in the space field. Formerly Curator of Space Technology at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Kerrie is an acknowledged expert on Australia’s space history, having co-authored the original edition of Space Australia and published more than a dozen other papers on the topic. A member of the Faculty of the International Space University, Kerrie lectures in Space Humanities in the ISU’s Space Studies Program and Southern Hemisphere Space Studies program. She is also an elected Member of the International Academy of Astronautics and serves on international committees on the ‘history of astronautics’, ‘space education and outreach’ and ‘space and museums’. Kerrie has been the recipient of an Australian Space Pioneer Award from the National Space Society of Australia and was the 2015 winner of the Sacknoff Prize for Space History. In addition to her space writing, Kerrie has co-authored three Star Wars reference books and a Doctor Who guidebook.



The Space Industry Association of Australia is delighted to partner with ATF Press in the publication of Australia in Space by Kerrie Dougherty. Under the title, Space Australia, a first edition of this book was published in 1993 by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and we are grateful to the Museum and Space Australia’s original co-author, Mr. Matthew L James, for their kind permission to publish a new edition. Space Australia recorded the remarkable achievements and challenges faced by the pioneers of our industry. This edition augments that history with the further achievements of the past 25 years. In this period the private sector has played an increasingly important role and we find that Australia is now at the forefront of the Space 2.0 phenomenon in which young Australian entrepreneurs are developing ambitious plans to build global systems and compete on the world stage.

We have much to celebrate in the rich history of Australia in space. This book is not only a carefully researched record of the highlights of our Australian space history. It is also a beautifully written and illustrated work dedicated to the many participants in the Australian space adventure over a period of 70 years since the founding of  Woomera. We now have a complete history, rewritten 50 years after the launch of Australia’s first and most notable satellite launch. The WRESAT story continues to inspire us.

We are very fortunate that Kerrie Dougherty agreed once again to take on this project, giving us the benefit of her long involvement and research and her clear insights. As the peak voice for the space industry in Australia we are proud that we have been able to make this contribution and we hope that this story will help to educate and inspire the next generation and encourage further exploits and achievements for Australia in space.

Michael Davis
Chair, Space Industry Association of Australia
Adelaide, Australia




Despite my having worked some 25 years in human space flight at NASA, still today the iconic name ‘Woomera’ continues to evoke within me the mystery and excitement of the early days of rocketry.  And as a young boy growing up in South Australia, I recall the mythology surrounding that strange and distant land where amazing adventures were being realized.   Woomera – named for an ancient invention the first indigenous Australians used to hurl spears – captured for that young Adelaide boy an exotic dream that of course involved Buck Rogers spaceships, voyages to the Moon and to other planets.  It was truly inspirational.  Heady stuff indeed.

But even if that young boy’s imagination embellished the reality, Woomera did pioneer significant developments in launch vehicle testing and ultimately allowed Australia to help open the doorway to space by becoming, in 1967, one of the first nations to build and launch its own satellite.  Although the efforts behind that milestone did not evolve further, the Woomera site has continued to host sounding rocket and missile tests, and has seen re-entry vehicle testing, hypersonic and SCRAMJET testing.   Recently it was the re-entry and landing site for the Japanese Hayabusa probe that returned micro-samples of asteroidal material.

But it is not just the Woomera site where Australia has contributed and participated to space exploration on the international stage.   Australia’s antipodean location offered a unique geographic opportunity to host the early tacking sites for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.  Indeed, the first images and words from the Apollo 11 crew on the surface of the Moon came by way of the tracking stations in Australia.  And I recall, like anyone growing up in Australia in the sixties, the great national pride we felt when the city of Perth turned on its lights for John Glenn’s historic orbital flight.  Little did I know that thirty-five years later, I would have the opportunity to actually meet and talk to John Glenn about that legendary moment.  But even more surprising was that my own home town, the city of Adelaide, would come to do the very same for me as I first orbited the Earth in the space shuttle Endeavour in 1996.

The story behind these and many other developments are recorded in Australia in Space.  And as you read this history of the Australian role in opening the space frontier, it is my hope you will appreciate how these events came about, and understand the efforts of the dedicated individuals who were behind them.  You, too, may be surprised as you share in the excitement of what was done by those engineers and scientists who were motivated by a sense of national pride and curiosity.  They knew they were participating in the start of a great adventure.

Andrew Thomas
NASA Astronaut (Retired)
Houston, Texas