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About the Video Clip:

Video Clip Synopsis:
Rocket making and launching tests the limits of science and technology at Woomera in South Australia, the longest rocket range in the Western World.

2min 16sec

Testing Rockets at Woomera Rocket Range is an excerpt from the film Rocket Range Australia (19 mins), produced in 1957.

Rocket Range Australia: When this film was made in the late 1950s, the Australian Government’s Weapons Research Establishment in South Australia used what was then cutting-edge technology for rocket research and testing. This film provides a fascinating insight into the work carried out at the sprawling Salisbury complex of offices, laboratories and workshops and at Woomera, home to both the world’s longest rocket range and a purpose-built township in the middle of the desert.

Rocket Range Australia is a National Film Board Production. Produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit in association with the Department of Supply.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: Science
Year: 7-8
Strand: Natural and processed materials, energy and change
Theme: Science Work

Key Concepts

Energy transformations

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Working scientifically: Investigating; Natural and processed materials: Materials and their uses, structure and properties, reaction and change; Energy and change: Transferring energy
NSW:Science 4.6, 4.13, 4.14, 4.22
NT:Science Band 3: CC3.1, WS3.1, WS3.2, WS 3.5
Qld:Science and society 4.1, Natural and processed materials 3.1, 3.3
SA:Energy systems 3.3, 4.1, 4.2; Matter 3.2
Tas:World Futures: Investigating the natural and constructed world
Vic:Physical science 3.2, 4.2
Chemical Science 3.1
WA:Learning outcomes: Natural and processed materials, Energy and change

Context / Background Information

The Woomera rocket range came into existence as a consequence of Britain's defence requirements following World War 2. Britain needed a large, remote area in which to test new weapons systems. Australia was keen to be part of the nuclear weapons development process that would be a key part of the Cold War and offered the Woomera area as a joint facility.

Founded in 1947, for 30 years Woomera functioned as the support and residential base for the largest overland rocket range in the Western world. It was a joint Australian/British venture.

During the first decade and a half of operations at Woomera, Britain and Australia used the massive industrial complex at Salisbury, near Adelaide as the backbone of the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE).

In 1962 France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands joined Britain and Australia to form the European Launch Development Organisation (ELDO).

In March 1958, the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) completed its first space tracking station at Woomera. NASA's station in Woomera (1960-1972) served as a vital communications link for Apollo XI as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in July 1969.

More recently, Woomera's role changed from a support base for a rocket range and defence research and development, to that of a residential and support area for the Joint United States-Australian Defence Facility at Nurrungar, which was established in 1970. It was a ground station for a global strategic satellite surveillance system, whose role was to detect the launch of missiles and above ground nuclear detonations. Nurrungar closed in 2000.

Woomera was until recently also the location of a remote detention centre for asylum seekers who were seeking refugee status. Many were held at Woomera while their claims were processed and investigated. The detention centre was closed in April 2003.

Considerable international and national aeronautic and space research and development continues at Woomera today.

Discussion Pointers

Discuss the safety issues that might be involved with making and testing rockets.

Discuss the energy sources and transformations that take place when a rocket is fired.

Why was outback Australia used for rocket testing?

Do you think the testing procedures look safe in this video clip?

Do you think that this weapons testing is still happening in Australia? How do you think people’s attitudes to weapons testing has changed since this video clip was made?

Rockets are used for a number of purposes. In this clip they are used to carry weapons. Sounding rockets are sent into the upper atmosphere to measure the physical conditions. Rockets are also used for space exploration - to go to the Moon, other planets and to travel outside our Solar System. Do you think ‘rocket science’ a worthwhile science or is it a waste of resources?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Discuss Newton’s Third Law that states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
  2. Discuss how rockets are propelled – to propel rockets off the ground, the force of gas pushing downwards out of the bottom of the rocket is accompanied by the force of the rocket moving upwards.
  3. Find out what fuels are used in rockets.
  4. Discuss how gases take up much more space than solids or liquids and how expanding gases can be used to power rockets.
  5. Make a Balloon Rocket
    – Materials (per pair of students)
    • a balloon
    • a straw
    • string
    • sticky tape
    • paper or light card and scissors (optional)
    Cut the string to a length of 3 or 4 metres. Thread the straw onto the string. Stretch the string out tightly and either tie it to something fixed or use two students – one holding each end. Move the straw down to one end. Blow up the balloon and hold the end tightly while sticky taping it to the straw. Then let go and watch what happens as the air escapes from the balloon. Measure the distance travelled along the string.

    Repeat a number of times to achieve maximum ‘thrust’ of the rocket.

    Try using the card to make wings or tails which can be attached to the balloon to stabilise it.
    • What was the longest distance travelled by your rocket?
    • What was the longest distance travelled by any rocket in the class?
    • What sorts of changes makes the balloon rocket travel further?
    • Did the rocket travel in the same direction or the opposite direction to the air coming out of the balloon?

Modules That Use This Clip

Science Year 7-8, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12