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Today, Woomera. Tomorrow. … ?

Richard TonkinRichard Tonkin is an investigative citizen journalist from Adelaide. His last piece on Webdiary was Partner Ships.

by Richard Tonkin

How do you feel about the idea that the new work at Spaceport Woomera isn't really about the conquest of space, but actually the control of other nations? What if South Australia is set to become a base from which the US could deploy troops to anywhere in the world? It may sound a little like the plot for Capricorn One, but for one man such an idea is far from impossible to achieve. He's tried something similar before and failed. His name is Richard Cheney.

The first time I went to Woomera, on behalf of the South Australian Outback Areas Cultural Development Trust, was to play at a folk concert organised by a US Air Force bloke with a few buttons on his shoulder . Unfortunately what "Thad" had going against him was Darts Night, a regular and sacred local event. As missiles struck the walls of every bar in town, we played jigs and reels to five people in the otherwise empty theatre.The next day I had the opportunity to walk inside a Starlifter before it took off. I don't know if you've seen one of the things but it's a hulking plane that can take off on a very short runway. "Thad," explained how these were what ferried stuff between the Aussie Outback and the US of A. No doubt such planes will be comparatively like a horse and buggy when compared to the next generation of hypersonic planes. New aircraft are anticipated to make the trip from Washington to Australia in two hours !

Returning to the town of space odysseys in 2001, to me it seemed pretty well empty. Even the transportable homes that had housed so many in the area's more active days had long been sold, and the empty lanes on which these used to dwell made you feel that the town's history was completed.

The atomically minded Brits were ghosts, as were the missile launching Yanks and their dart-throwing Australian support personnel. It looked like a sorry end to a significant history. It was sad to me, especially considering how globally important the place had once been considered.

The science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, who also worked out the concept of placing satellites in geosynchronous orbit, had figured that Britain would be the greatest superpower of the world because of it's control of the Australian rocket range. Clarke reasoned that whoever controlled the best spaceport in the world would control space, and by default achieve planetary supremacy on Earth.

Now, as the possible replacements for the space shuttle are about to be trialled at Spaceport Woomera, I wonder what's about to happen in our outback, if it's not already. President Bush's announcement of efforts to travel to Mars on January 14 2004 included a mandate that the space shuttles were to be grounded after the assembly of the international space station. . A 2004 US Senate hearing into the matter was told that "After that, NASA must decide whether it will develop a new heavy-lift expendable rocket, convert the Shuttle (which is a heavy-lift vehicle) into a configuration designed to carry only cargo, or use or modify existing expendable launch vehicles, which are not capable of launching the heaviest loads. The vision also calls for NASA to develop a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) to carry humans back to the Moon as early as 2015."

It all sounds like a noble endeavour. Am I being too cynical in wondering if this new slant on the space program is merely a disguise for testing new military technology?

Australia, according to the Attorney general's Department, deems that to "launch a space object means launch the object into an area beyond the distance of 100 km above mean sea level, or attempt to do so." In creating this demarcation, this country has defined what is air space and what is outer space. Given that outer space isn't owned by any nation, we now have a border that sets our territory apart from these new "international waters" on which the ships we launch will sail.

Soon a new craft will begin its maiden voyages. One the shuttle's potential replacements, proposed by private corporation Rocketplane Kistler, is due to be tested from Woomera over the next few years. The Kistler K-1 is a two-stage vehicle designed for full reusability. It is 121 feet (36.9 m) in overall length, 22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter and weighs 841,000 pounds (382,300 kg) at liftoff. and is designed to be reused 100 times. Rocketplane-Kistler is a partnership that includes Lockheed-Martin and Northrop Grumman, two companies who are already bringing their technologies to South Australia to participate in the warship construction.

Kistler's plan's for Woomera aren't as new as they sound in the NASA announcements. It was noted in the 1998 memorandum on the Australian Space Activities Bill that the company's subsidiary Kistler Woomera Pty Ltd had applied to build a facility. It appears that taking the project to the defence giants has given the scheme the firepower it needed to become attractive to NASA.

It's noted in the document linked above (circulated by the same Senator Nick Minchin who is currently showing of a possible model for the new warships at Port Adelaide) that Kistler at that time were expected to be the first to utilise the legislation. This makes you wonder who had the Prime Minister's ear in order to get the legalities sorted out so quickly. Given the amount of momentum development in South Australia was given by Dick Cheney's visit to Australia in 1997, it would be unsurprising if the aspiring US Vice President had a word in John Howard's ear.

What I'm now beginning to believe is that experiments that Rocketplane-Kistler are carrying out are maybe not just to carry staff and supplies to one space station. I'm thinking more about a US Military ability to put American troops anywhere in the world as soon as Cheney snaps his fingers.

Cheney is a fan of using air-dropped Marines in operations, to the point that he reportedly attempted to bypass the US Military to implement a scheme to invade Baghdad using airborne Marines. Retired US Army Colonel Lloyd J. Matthews wrote in the March 1996 issue of ARMY Magazine that: "In late October 1990, as Central Command in Saudi Arabia was urgently laying plans for operation Desert Storm to evict the Iraqi Republican Guard from Kuwait, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney in Washington grew restive and hatched plans of his own. Deciding to come up with "something bolder" in the way of an offensive plan, he had personnel on the Joint Staff formalise his ideas and then actually pitched them to President Bush before they were ever revealed to General Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander on the ground responsible for planning and implementing the operation. Cheney's plan: drop the 82nd airborne division on top of missile-command sites near the far-western edge of Iraq, then have the Division link up with elements of the 101st Air Assault Division and 3rd Armored Cavalry Division and then hightail it eastward to threaten Baghdad. As General Schwarzkopf pointed out to JCS Chairman Colin Powell, Cheney's plan was logistically flawed and subsequently derailed.

In the late 1990's Cheney was yet to return to the White House to have another go at seizing Baghdad and providing security of future US oil supply. As he travelled to Australia in '97 as CEO of Halliburton, and while the new Howard Government was working out the legalities so that the Kistler project could proceed, Cheney possessed the ability to provide levels of security for the facility capable of providing success for his previously failed invasion. Cheney acquired the Australian engineering company Kinhill as a template for Halliburton Australia, and created a prominent international headquarters for in the nearest substantial city to the spaceport, the South Australian capital of Adelaide. Cheney's Crew were given control of Adelaide's water supply. They were responsible for the creation of a railway that linked the country to the world via the Outback, They created development plans for SA suburbs and country towns and the roads that link them. A Halliburton chief, who sat on the State's Economic Development Board, was placed in charge of the smaller contractors for warships that would be compatible with the US Missile Shield, of which an important radar detection system was installed. The locale became internationally prominent as a defence hub, envisaged to be a technological twin of the Bush home city of Austin Texas. B-2 bombers from Guam began to overfly the Outback on mission practices, and facilities for training US soldiers and equipment through "Joint training" were enhanced. A desalination plant that be capable, using Halliburton technology, of a guaranteed Woomera water supply has just been announced.

I've just finished reading a piece in Popular Science discussing the use of new jet technology to launch US Marines to anywhere in the world. Using such technology would allow, for example, US soldiers based in Australia to be on the doorsteps of Tehran in just a few hours of travel. While implementation of such activity is still far away, the required technologies are coming along nicely, and much of the relevant experimentation is being carried out Down Under.

Speaking at an Australian conference on hypersonic transport last year Retired Major General Robert Dickman, the US Air Force's Deputy Undersecretary for Military Space, , explained why Woomera is so useful for the US military as a Scramjet test centre. "Of course," he said, "the downside from testing from the Cape [Canaveral] or any other ocean based testing range is that it's very hard to recover things that don't work to determine the problem, or things that do work to see how well they operated and how close they might have been to failure." He added that our "From a United States perspective we'll do much of our work at home, but, as we've learned, Woomera is a great place to test. The costs are low enough that an experimenter or demonstrator can accept that not every flight must be a success- and we can recover the hardware."

Dickman also said on his Australian vist that "Propulsion, of course, brings a whole separate set of unanswered questions. Turbine technology can probably get to Mach 4, Ram/Scramjets to somewhere above Mach 6. Beyond that, the question is where hydrocarbon fuelled scramjets will top out - Mach 8, or maybe Mach 10? What's the limit for Hydrogen fuelled scramjets? Is a combined cycle system the future for space access?"

Until the scramjet technology becomes feasible the already existing technology will have to suffice. If Cheney had planned to use Kistler-style rockets to carry attacking troops to a hotspot in the '90s, he'll be able to "make do" in this early stage of the New American Century. In the meantime both the old and new technologies have a home in which to hone their rough edges.

This year marks Woomera's 60th birthday. As past residents, many of them former representatives of the US and UK Governments, return there to reminisce, they could well be gathering at place that will one day be remembered as the womb of an interplanetary human civilisation. The visions of the great cultural inventors Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein have the potential to be enacted within the next few years, as the rapid advances in computer, biological and nanotech technology enable us to leap into the universe.

Alternatively, Woomera and South Australia could become globally detested as the place from which one nations military might could inflict hand-to-hand Shock and Awe in any region of the world at a moment's notice.

To use the old cliché that "the choice is ours" would be meaningless. In dedicating technology to war or peace, the choice belongs to Dick Cheney.

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The Eff One Double One..

.. it is a lovely plane
it flies at twice the speed of sound, and scatters bombs like rain
It's wings go back and forward, it's the latest thing around
A pity that the silly thing can't get up off the ground.

Heard this in '78 (The Larrikins on the seminal BLF album Rebel Chorus) but didn't take a lot of notice till today. Apparently, 30 years later, the F111 is still the only aircraft in the ADF's service that can make Mach 2.

[Brisbane Times 13/4/07]

Brisbane's own Area-51, the new Defence Science and Technology Organisation(DSTO) Headquarters and Hypersonics research facility, was opened today at Pullenvale.

The facility aims to co-ordinate in association with local industry in the development of defence technology and encourage the further development of hypersonic aeronautical technology.

The report continues:

To test the scramjet in Woomera, a rocket carrying the engine is shot over 300km above the Earth - higher than the space shuttle - then turns and once entering the atmosphere engages for only five seconds and plummets into the ground.

At the moment the Australian Defence Force has only one type of aircraft that can exceed mach two, the F-111, which is being phased out of service in 2010.

During the next five years eight major hypersonic experiments will be conducted.

But Brisbane residents need not worry about any UFO's buzzing above their homes, all practical testing will be conducted from the Woomera testing ground in South Australia.

Unmanned aircraft

More successful testing in today's news of Woomera: Australia lifts lid on joint UAV airspace deconfliction programme with Singapore

With targeting for ballistic missiles done from half way around the world and UAVs, it looks like we can have Shock and Awe anywhere we want completely without risk to the attacker.


"Game changing" new USAF tests at Woomer

This September l the US Air Force, with NASA providing back up, plans to begin testing their new HiFire jets at Woomera.  Described as the "jewel in the crown" of scramjet technology, (HiFire is an acronym for Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation) their anticipated short-term application is much faster cruise missiles.

It will be pretty cool if Woomera has the capability to detect targets (as the Narrungar base did with Scud launchers in Gulf War!) and knock them off with missiles flying at eight times the speed of sound.

In the long term the project is hoped, according to its director, "to enable operationally responsive space access."  The USAF says that "Hypersonic capability is of interest to the Air Force for its ability to enable 'game changing' operations that exploit speed and responsiveness in both near- and far-term applications."

The $US 51 million contract between the USAF and the Weapons Division of DSTO (singed off in Canber on November 10 last year) is, according to our DoD's chief scientist, "one of the largest aerospace collaborations ever between the two countries."

Sources USAF Media Release 15th November 2006,  Aviation Week, March 18 2007

Into that phone box, and out of these clothes

Yes Richard, well done. I endorse Alan Curran’s remarks.

Woomera ( 31 degrees S) and the John F Kennedy Space Centre in Florida (29 degrees N) are at comparable latitudes for the launching of space vehicles. All other factors being equal, the closer to the equator the better for this endeavour, and because the Earth’s west to east rotation gives a vehicle a flying start, launches in an easterly direction are best.

They do this in Florida. But Florida has a very wet, stormy climate while Woomera has a very dry and unstormy one. Vehicles launched from Woomera that strike trouble would land in the desert, where those from Kennedy land in the sea. On the face of it, launches in Australia would better be done from somewhere like Broome (lat 18 degrees S, around that of Cairns). But then again, cyclones become a problem there. I assume that NASA and the rest of them know what they are doing, though one high level scientist I know who is involved with NASA assures me that they don’t, and further that the Space Station is the greatest white elephant of all time. (No names, no pack drill.)

If the future of South Australia is to be Superman's phone box, one of suborbital American SWAT divisions blasting off and blasting back on again for Truth, Justice and the American way wherever the latter are seen to be required, then Jehovah, Allah and Ahura Mazda, help us all. Those teams will inevitably be more interested in rolling back threats posed by the likes of the fedayeen to the investments of the likes of Halliburton, than those posed by such as the Janjaweed to life and limb in places like Darfur, where they are really needed for the real progress of humanity.

This piece now listed on Google News

In the news

Yes, indeed, interesting.

As was this response from Kevin Rudd on Adelaide radio talkback:

CALLER: Yes, thanks for that Leon. Hello, Mr Rudd. I am confused, Mr Rudd, about globalism and how it affects this country, whether it’s all good or all bad. But, this being an election year, Sir, I firmly believe that sound principal-based policy can always be afforded. Sir, at this stage, are there many political reforms you would like to see occur as alternative Prime Minister apart from ones already mentioned?

RUDD: Well, what I’d like to see in the future, I mean you spoke specifically of political reforms, is this. I think, at the Federal level, we have too frequent elections. What I’d like to move towards, and you would do this with the agreement of both political parties, is a system of four year terms. Across the States of Australia, we have four year terms in every State except Queensland. I think at the Federal level, the truth is when you have an election you spend six months setting up the new government or making re-appointments of Ministers if the previous government’s re-elected. You spend two years of best governing and then you’re getting ready for the next election. I just think that’s not an effective way of governing a country as important as this with a one trillion dollar economy, with significant foreign policy interests. We need to have a longer span for the government, duly democratically elected, than is currently the place.

I hope Labor has another look at that bit of policy during National Conference. Three years, fixed, would give more protection against rampant globalism than four-year flexible terms.  

As I may have mentioned before, a parliamentary committee is running an inquiry into the petitioning process. I don't know why there are so few submissions, because plenty of people are familiar with this essential part of democratic process. It's likely the inquiry will wind up soon, without much pressure to recommend any reforms. There's plenty of scope to make changes that would make petitioning a smoother and more accessible tool for citizens to exercise.

Sorry about the diversion - I had to wedge it in somehow.

Plutonium, Australia's "second bite of the cherry"?

Next week NASA are holding a symposium on space travel.  After the lunch that is being paid for by Lockheed-Martin, the full-bellied audience will listen to a discussion on space commercialisation.

Commercial space ventures and public private interaction can enhance the affordability of the vision. Commercial transportation has a key role in enabling space commerce. Innovative business opportunities and strategies for private sector and government collaboration for risk reduction will be discussed. The role of private investment is deemed essential for space commerce to grow and the legal, regulatory, organizational and economic issues of space commercialization will be discussed.

Given the likelihood of a power generating reactor at Port Augusta, I'm betting that the reactor for which Professor Kenemy was conducting a feasibility study at Woomera was one in which gamma rays would convert uranium-238 into plutonium-239, NASA's fuel-of-choice in the Rover and Cassini programs.  238 is the bulk of natural and also depleted uranium. 

Perhaps the long-dismissed (for now) Woomera radioactive dump might have served as a fuel reservoir for the space program?

What a second bite at the cherry this could be for Australian uranium sales... enrich the ore, sell it to India, chuck the leftovers into another reactor then sell it to the Yanks as rocket fuel !   We could barter these "leftovers" with GE in return for power generators and free electricity for Aussie homes, perhaps?  This way the entire Australian public, instead of just Walker,Morgan and De Crespigny could have their lifestyles enriched.  It's hard to imagine Kemeny's reactor not being feasible in at least a financial sense, when you look at all the money it could help the globalcorps generate.

Plutonium power has enabled Cassini to discover, last year, what appear to be lakes of hydrocarbon on Jupiter's moon Titan (AnonymousLefty has an artist's impression here).  What's the bet for Exxon space tankers shipping the stuff back here when Earth's oil runs out?

Another passing thought.  If we shoot a reactor and a pile of D.U. out into space, maybe BP could build a "servo."   Perhaps, while filling up for another run, the Jovian supertankers could dump their oil into a Halliburton-built pipeline running straight down to the Australian Outback.

If such ideas can run through the head of a scientific imbecile such as yours truly, you can be sure that corporations already have patents on them.

No Nuclear Power In Orbit: Australian Democrats

 While looking at the aspect of nuclear propulsion experiments being conducted with a Woomera involvement.  I wrote to Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja asking if she thought the possibility was likely and her opiniions on the matter.  Here"s her response ( published on Webdiary with her permisson) :

"' Interesting that you should raise a space-related topic because I am in the process of discussing space policy with a number of experts in the area and hope to propose initiatives to develop Australia's space capability and better regulate activity later this year.

The Australian Democrats have a long-standing opposition to nuclear power and that also applies to space-craft.  While I acknowledge nuclear energy has some natural advantages as a power source in space, we would be concerned about the safety of conducting experiments in Earth's orbit where there is a danger of radioactive material falling back to Earth.

I am probably not in the best position to give you an opinion on the likelihood of these experiments going ahead.  My understanding of Project Prometheus is that it has suffered a budget reduction and appears not to be a major priority for NASA at the moment."


If Walker, De  Crespigny and Morgan are intending their reactor being involved with the space industry, a Democrat-led Parliamentiary debate could prove to be an interesting testing of John Howard's nuclear waters.

Does it have to be that way.?

Alfred Nobel, if the popular story is true, reversed the process you describe,  Solomon.  To invent dynamite, run a defence company, and then dedicate your financial accumulations to the benefit of turning mankind's thinking to peaceful causes is an act that deserves a continued legacy of evolving altruism.   Nobel didn't want to be remembered as a killer, but he is... as a killer who changed his ways and tried to teach others to do the same.

I would rather see the defence corps vieing for the carrot of winning every piece of precious ore and valuable liquid out of every planet and asteroid they can get to first then watch these jokers develope  more techniques to kill at greater speed and with more efficiency.   if redirecting the profiteers is the only way to avert the legacy of continual war that we look like bestowing upon our kids the, perhaps we need to find other jobs for the Cheneys of this world.

I know its an ethically tough compromise, but if it's a good chance to achieve peace on earth then it might serve as a stop-gap.  The trouble is that our great-grandkids may end up having to lease  interplanetary landspace from the likes of Halliburton.  Still, better than blowing up this planet before we manage to dispersing the eggs in the proverbial basket and get off it, I guess.


No, there is no disguise. That is conspiracy. Civilian research and technology can often have a military application which is totally unknown, even to those engaged in it. Technology begets more technology. The printing press was actually created out of a variation on wine-presses. Einstein's theories of course helped create the nuclear bomb. Marshall Mcluhan once said (actually quoting someone else, but I forget who) that human beings are the sex organs of technology and he has a point to make. There is an extent to which we are not in control of technology but controlled by it.

Distance ourselves quickly!

I reckon the best thing Australia could do would be to close down every American facility on our mainland ASAP then distance ourselves from Imperialist America in every way possible.

America is like the Strangler Fig. It starts off looking innocuous, even slightly attractive, and before you know it, it has got you by the short and curlies. Eventually all that is left of you is a dead trunk.

P.S. After closing down all facilities, then people like Howard and all other sycophantic Bush-Worshipers should be given a one-way ticket to Disneyland where they belong.

Thanks, but...

I wish I was inventive enough, Alan Curran, to conceive of and write about ideas in the way that these three of my heroes did.  I'm almost honoured by your compliment, but can't accept it  

All I can do is attempt to keep track of what others are up to, and this wasn't even anything I was looking for.  I was looking through the Australian space stuff for relevant material to possible Australian involvement interplanetary nuclear propulsion projects such as Project Prometheus (in which the Bush bandits were going to use nuke powered ships to mine water from Jupiter's moons, I kid you not).

I had only been looking in this direction because a prominent Aussie nuclear scientist had been skiting about been involved in relevant studies, and wondering what was allowed 100 kilometres upward.

I wouldn't have associated the name Kistler with anything if it hadn't been for the recent NASA trial publicity, which has said nothing about the plans ten years ago.

I grew up loving the ideas that the vingtage SF writers came up with.  Sadly it looks like the've been converted into yet more warmongering and corporate profit-taking.   C'est la vie 

Better watch out

Richard Tonkin, methinks Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein had better watch out if you keep writing this sort of stuff.

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