In 1947, in response to the growing pressure to keep ahead of her world rivals, the British Government teamed with the Australian Government to set up a Testing Ground for Rocket Weapons at Woomera deep in the South Australian Desert. The name 'Woomera' means 'Spear Thrower' in the local Aboriginal language. The location of Woomera was ideal, the area being sparesly inhabited and very remote, a defiante advantage when the inevitable failures occurred.
By the 1960s Woomera had become the largest rocket launching base in the world outside of the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. Unfortunately during the 1970s Woomera entered its silent era when the space aspirations of the Australian people were sidelined by a lack of world interest in its the launch facilities. Woomera's sad demise was partly political and partly geographical with its location not being ideal for the launching of satillites into the commercially lucrative stationary orbits over the equator.
After the 1986 Challenger disaster which tragically killed 7 astronauts, NASA announced that it would no longer be sending commercial paylods into orbit. This opened up the door for more private companies to enter the market of satillites launches.
Latest news (May 18, 2001) it seems a U.S. company, Kistler Aerospace Corporation, is developing the first fully reusable launch vehicle, the Kistler K-1, and Woomera has been chosen as the site for the first test launches and possibly the first commercial launches also.
The Cape York Spaceport
Plans for a Spaceport at Cape York unfortauntely have came to nothing but the circumstances surrounding the proposal and its eventual demise are still of some interest when considering the possibility of future Australian spaceports
In 1986 and 1987 the Queensland Government commissioned a feasibility studies for a lunch site on Cape York. Both studies were used in a 'Proposal Document' in 1987 with a call for expressions of interest. The advantages of Cape York as a possible Spaceport site included its proximity to the equator, its weather and geographical situation which are similar to Cape Canaveral in Florida, plus Australia's stable political environment and modern technical facilities. The Cape York Space Agency became the first successful applicant however, they ran out of money in 1989 and the Essington Group took over. The Essington Group also ran into financial difficulties and in 1992 Space Transportation Systems (STS) were granted the rights. At the end of 1992 Space Transportation Systems ceased its investigations of Cape York and began looking at the island of Emira, in Papua New Guinea instead.
There are many reasons for the demise of the Cape York project:-
1. Little political interest shown by the Australian government.
2. Considerable tax payer funded costs needed to set up the necessary local infrastructure.
3. Difficult access to the more lucrative polar orbits .
4. Vehicles launched in Cape York would have to cross a populated area of Australia.
5. The Cape York Council made it clear they would strenuously block any proposal for a spaceport