50 years ago, we touched the sky

Half a century ago today, Australia’s first satellite was launched.

The satellite, known somewhat inelegantly as WRESAT, took off from the remote Woomera testing range in South Australia, on November 29, 1967. It made Australia the third country in the world to launch a satellite from its own territory.

The satellite was launched on board a modified Redstone rocket, renamed the Sparta, donated by NASA. The satellite itself was cone-shaped, 1.6 metres long, and weighed 45 kilograms.

It was built by a joint venture between the University of Adelaide and the Weapons Research Establishment – the forerunner of a government department now known as the Defence Science and Technology Group.

 Mike Brooks, Interim Vice-Chancellor at the University of Adelaide, says the team had just 11 months in which to design, plan and build the WRESAT.

After launch, the satellite orbited the Earth 642 times – sending data back for the first 72 – before re-entering the atmosphere and plunging into the Atlantic Ocean on January 10, 1968.

The excitement of the preparation and launch were caught by documentary film-makers who recorded the whole process. Enjoy the excerpt embedded on this page.

Weapons Research Establishment Satellite from National Archives of Australia on Vimeo.

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