Australia in space: Marking a moment in manufacturing history

Former space engineer Karl Zalkauskas holds a replica of WRESAT, the first Australian satellite launched into orbit

Former space engineer Karl Zalkauskas holds a replica of WRESAT, the first Australian satellite launched into orbit

November 29 will mark a special anniversary on Australia’s space calendar, and in the life of a former Australian engineer by the name of Karl Zalkauskas.

It was on this date during 1967 when Australia’s first satellite – that he and a team for the former Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) designed and built – was launched into space.

Dubbed WRESAT, the mission would assist the understanding of the upper atmosphere on climate and weather and also tested techniques ahead of launching trials for the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO).

“It was a very exciting time in as much as we had a very short time to develop the satellite,” Zalkauskas, now 83, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Mission manufacturing: Taking Australia to the stars

“It was our job to design and develop the apparatus that would collect samples of air and iron and there just so happened to be a rocket going spare after the Americans re-entered testing.”

To mark 50 years since the landmark, Defence Science and Technology (DST) – which can be traced back to WRE – will launch its Buccaneer Cube satellite (pictured centre) into orbit this November.

“The technology they use today is far beyond what I am familiar with and there has been a huge progression since our days,” Zalkauskas continued.

“To imagine Australia owning its own space agency is exciting and would be another big leap forward.”