Woomera Test Range

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Coordinates: 30°57′19″S 136°31′56″E / 30.9553°S 136.5322°E / -30.9553; 136.5322

RAAF Woomera Test Range
Near Woomera, South Australia
A sign on the Stuart Highway indicating that vehicles are entering the Woomera Test Range, and are to stay on the road
Woomera Test Range map.svg
Area currently covered by the Woomera test range
Type Aerospace (military/civil)
Site information
Operator Royal Australian Air Force's Air Warfare Centre
Status Active
Site history
In use 1946–present
Test information
Nuclear tests 9 (See British nuclear tests at Maralinga and Operation Totem)
Other tests Missiles, aircraft weapons, drone aircraft, rockets

The RAAF Woomera Test Range (WTR, previously known as the Woomera Test Facility, the Woomera Rocket Range, and the Long Range Weapons Establishment, Woomera) is a weapons testing range operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Air Warfare Centre.[1][2] The day-to-day operation and administration of the WTR is the responsibility of Air Force Test Ranges Squadron, Air Warfare Centre, based at RAAF Base Edinburgh. The range facility is located in South Australia, in that State's north-west pastoral region. The gateway to the Range is the Defence support base Woomera long referred to as 'Woomera Village'. Woomera is located approximately 500 kilometres (310 mi) north-west of Adelaide. The Range, however, covers a large area, and is the largest land-based weapons test facility in the western world.[2]

The range complex is made up of the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA, the groundspace of the range), the Woomera Restricted Airspace (WRX, the associated airspace), the village of Woomera, RAAF Woomera Airfield, and Camp Rapier (the former Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre). The nearby Nurrungar Test Area Woomera (NTAW), which was the former site of the USAF/ADF Joint Defense Facility Nurrungar, is now also part of the wider Woomera Test Range complex. Woomera village has a usual population of 150 to 200 people, but can provide accommodation and services for up to 500 range users per day. Although the range is closed to the public, Woomera village is open to the public.

Woomera Prohibited Area[edit]

The groundspace of the range is known as the Woomera Prohibited Area and measures 122,188 km2. It was first declared a prohibited area in 1947.[3] Access is managed by the Department of Defence Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office using a permit system.[4] Non-defence users of the area include pastoralists, aboriginal people and traditional owners, mining and exploration companies with leases in the WPA (including Arrium and OZ Minerals), opal miners, tourists, research organisations and the rail operator, Genesee & Wyoming Australia.[5]


Modern mines within the area include the Challenger gold mine, Peculiar Knob iron ore mine, Prominent Hill copper mine and the Cairn Hill iron ore mine. As of 2016, only Challenger is operational. Peculiar Knob is in care and maintenance owing to a weak iron ore price, while ore bodies at Prominent Hill and Cairn Hill have been exhausted.

Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board[edit]

Paul Heithersay, WPA Advisory Board member
Paul Heithersay, WPA Advisory Board member

A Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board exists to "monitor and recommend amendments to co-existence policies and procedures; develop high-level relationships between Defence and the resources sector; resolve disputes between Defence and non-Defence users; report annually on the balance of interests in the WPA; and conduct a review every seven years of the balance of interests in the WPA."

As of 2016, WPA Advisory Board membership includes:[6]

Name Position Relevant Roles
Stephen Loosley AM Chair Former NSW Labor senator
Paul Holloway Deputy Chair Former Minister for Mines & Energy, Government of South Australia
Air Marshal Leo Davies Chief of Air Force
Dr Paul Heithersay Deputy Chief Executive, South Australian Government Department of State Development, and CEO Olympic Dam Task Force
Andy Keough CEO Defence SA, South Australian Government
John Edge Deputy Secretary Asset Management and Parliamentary Services, Australian Government Department of Finance and Deregulation

Minutes of the Board from 2012–2016 were partially released following a Freedom of Information request in 2016.[7]


The historic precinct of the town attracts a large number of visitors each year to view the many local attractions including the Missile Park, Heritage Centre, History Museum and other attractions such as Butement Square, the Eldo Hotel (formerly the headquarters for European Launch Development Organisation), and the local observatory. Approximately 65,000 tourists a year visit Woomera, with about half of that number going on to visit Roxby Downs (location of the BHP Olympic Dam Mine).[citation needed]


Germany's use of V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets during World War II prompted the British to establish their own rocket testing programme. However, the density of population in the United Kingdom made testing risky, so the British turned to Australia, asking for a site with a long testing corridor containing minimal population. The two nations joined in the Anglo-Australian Joint Project, a Commonwealth weapons design and test programme established in 1946.[1][8] Surveying the 1400 mile range from Woomera to the far north coast of Western Australia was initially conducted by the Army's Australian Survey Corps under Trevor Nossiter from 1946 in South Australia's Far North.[9][10] One of the Survey Corps members who commenced work there in 1947 was Len Beadell.[1][11] Australia was responsible for providing the testing facilities, personnel, and most of the funding, while the United Kingdom supplied most of the scientific equipment and personnel, and in addition to its financial contribution, paid for the weapons being used.[1] The name of the facility, and the village of Woomera, came from the Aboriginal spear-throwing device.[12] At its peak, the range had an area of 270,000 square kilometres (100,000 sq mi), most of which was in South Australia, but included a satellite range in north-west Western Australia.[2][12] This was later scaled back to a total area of 127,000 square kilometres (49,000 sq mi); still the largest land-based weapons test range in the western world.[2][12]

Facilities at Salisbury, South Australia supported the design and testing of many weapons and Upper Atmospheric Experiments trialled at Woomera.[1] Weapons designed by the Joint Project and tested at Woomera include the Sea Wolf, Rapier, Sea Dart, and Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles, the Black Knight research rocket, the Blue Steel nuclear stand-off missile, the Malkara anti-tank missile, the Ikara anti-submarine missile, and the GAF Jindivik target aircraft.[1] Missile testing commenced in 1949.[12] The Joint Project ran until 1980.

After the cancellation of the Joint Project the range was operated by Defence Research Centre Salisbury (former Weapons Research establishment, now Defence Science and Technology Organisation) in support of Australian Defence projects as they arose and also in support of German and NASA Sounding Rocket launches to observe the Supernova 1987A and other astronomical experiments. Woomera then focused on supporting the nearby joint Australia-United States Joint Defence Space Communications Station, Nurrungar.[1][2] The surveillance facility closed in 1999, around the same time the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the RAAF's Aircraft Research and Development Unit identified the future potential for the Range, particularly as it was one of the few sites in the world where over-the-horizon weapons testing was feasible.[2]

As of the end of 2009, there were up to ten different tests occurring on the range daily, and bookings for access had been made as far in advance as 2023.[13] The increase in interest from other parties prompted the Australian government to mark $500 million in funding for Woomera in May 2009, to update tracking systems and other infrastructure.[13]

In June 2010, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa landed on the Woomera test range after visiting the asteroid 25143 Itokawa.[14]

In 2011 Federal Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, together with South Australian Premier Mike Rann, announced that large areas of the Woomera Protected Area would be opened up for mining. This followed years of negotiations for the "mixed use" of the area, which contains many billions of dollars of mineral resources.[15]

In 2013 testing began on Taranis, a drone aircraft which is the result of a joint project between UK defence and BAE Systems.[16]

In June 2016, Raytheon was awarded a $297 million Commonwealth government contract to upgrade the range and make it the world's most advanced test range. The works are intended to accommodate performance tests of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and provide access for the United States military.[17]

The range is currently used for Australian Defence Force trials, and access is leased to foreign militaries and private companies for their own testing of weapons systems, rockets, and drone aircraft.[1][2][13]


The Woomera range has also been used for rocketry.[1] During the 1950s, the Black Knight rocket (as a component of Blue Streak) was tested at the range.[1] The first rocket launch occurred in 1957, and continued until the last satellite launch, Prospero X-3 in 1971.[12] Australia's first satellite, WRESAT, was launched from Woomera in 1967. The range was awarded a National Engineering Landmark in 1999.[18] Although initially allowed to lapse after the cancellation of the Joint Project, the use of the range for rocket research later increased.[1] In 2002, the University of Queensland launched a rocket carrying the HyShot engine: the first successful flight of a hypersonic scramjet engine.[1]

During the Cold War, Woomera had the second highest quantity and rate of rocket launches in the world after NASA's facilities at Cape Canaveral.[13]

Other launches included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Dennis et al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 330
  2. ^ a b c d e f g DeBelle, Blast from the past
  3. ^ "About the Woomera Prohibited Area". Department of Defence. Australian Government. Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  4. ^ "Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office". Department of Defence. Australian Government. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  5. ^ "Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office – Governance". Department of Defence. Australian Government. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  6. ^ "Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board". Department of Defence. Australian Government. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  7. ^ "Disclosure Log – Decisions – Department of Defence". www.defence.gov.au. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  8. ^ Morton, Peter (1989). Fire Across the Desert: Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Project 1946 - 1980. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0644475005. 
  9. ^ Coulthard-Clark, CD, 2000, Australia's Military Mapmakers – The Royal Australian Survey Corps 1915–96, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-551343-6
  10. ^ Fitzgerald, Lawrence, Brigadier (Retd) RA Svy, 1980, Lebanon to Labuan, ISBN 0959497900
  11. ^ Beadell, Still in the Bush, p. 31
  12. ^ a b c d e Wellfare, Our vital wasteland
  13. ^ a b c d Wheatley, International allies flock to Woomera testing range
  14. ^ Amos, Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission comes home
  15. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 2011
  16. ^ Matthew Grimson and Mark Corcoran (7 Feb 2014). "Taranis drone: Britain's $336m supersonic unmanned aircraft launched over Woomera". ABC. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "Raytheon wins $297m Woomera range contract – InDaily". 2016-06-27. Retrieved 2016-06-27. 
  18. ^ "Woomera Rocket Range, 1946–". Engineers Australia. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  19. ^ "Woomera LA2". astronautix.com. Retrieved 14 April 2017. 


News articles

Further reading[edit]

  • Beadell, Len (1967). Blast The Bush. Lansdowne Publishing. ISBN 1-86302-618-5. 
  • Morton, Peter (1989). Fire across the desert: Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Project 1946–1980. Canberra, ACT: AGPS Press. ISBN 0-644-06068-9. OCLC 29261144. 

External links[edit]