Woomera Test Range
|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
Area currently covered by the Woomera test range
|Operator||Royal Australian Air Force's Aerospace Operational Support Group|
|Nuclear tests||See British nuclear tests at Maralinga|
|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) Aerospace Operational Support Group. The day-to-day operation and administration of the WTR is the responsibility of Headquarters, RAAF Woomera Test Range, 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. 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.
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).
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 program. 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 program established in 1946. Surveying of sites for the test range and its village was initially conducted by the Army's Australian Survey Corps from 1946 in South Australia's Far North. One of the Survey Corps members who commenced work there in 1947 was Len Beadell. 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. The name of the facility, and the village of Woomera, came from the Aboriginal spear-throwing device. 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. 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.
Facilities at Salisbury, South Australia supported the design and testing of many weapons and Upper Atmospheric Experiments trialled at Woomera. 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. Missile testing commenced in 1949. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
The Woomera range has also been used for rocketry. During the 1950s, the Black Knight rocket (as a component of Blue Streak) was tested at the range. The first rocket launch occurred in 1957, and continued until the last satellite launch, Prospero X-3 in 1971. Although initially allowed to lapse after the cancellation of the Joint Project, the use of the range for rocket research has increased. In 2002, the University of Queensland launched a rocket carrying the HyShot engine: the first successful flight of a hypersonic scramjet engine. After NASA's facilities at Cape Canaveral, Woomera had the highest quantity and rate of rocket launches in the world at the time of the Cold War.
- British nuclear tests at Maralinga, a series of seven nuclear tests conducted within the Woomera area between 1955 and 1963.
- RAAF Woomera Airfield, the airfield supporting the Woomera Test Range.
- Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, a detention centre opened nearby in 1999 and operated until 2003. The facility was redesignated Camp Rapier, and used to accommodate Defence personnel working at the Woomera Test Range.
- Island Lagoon Tracking Station
- Dennis et al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 330
- DeBelle, Blast from the past
- Coulthard-Clark, CD, 2000, Australia's Military Mapmakers – The Royal Australian Survey Corps 1915–96, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-551343-6
- Fitzgerald, Lawrence, Brigadier (Retd) RA Svy, 1980, Lebanon to Labuan, ISBN 0959497900
- Beadell, Still in the Bush, p.31
- Wellfare, Our vital wasteland
- Wheatley, International allies flock to Woomera testing range
- Amos, Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission comes home
- Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 2011
- Matthew Grimson and Mark Corcoran (7 Feb 2014). "Taranis drone: Britain's $336m supersonic unmanned aircraft launched over Woomera". ABC. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
- Beadell, Len (1975). Still in the Bush. Adelaide: Rigby Limited. ISBN 0-7270-0020-9.
- Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-551784-2. OCLC 271822831.
- News articles
- Amos, Jonathan (13 June 2010). "Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission comes home". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- DeBelle, Penelope (25 July 2009). "Blast from the past". The Advertiser. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- Wellfare, John (24 February 2005). "Our vital wasteland". Air Force News (Royal Australian Air Force). Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- Wheatley, Kim (17 November 2009). "International allies flock to Woomera testing range". Adelaide Advertiser. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
- 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.