My rocket ship

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 … We have lift-off!

These words have been heard via radio and television countless times since the launch by the USSR of the world's first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957. The event triggered the space race and with each successful launch children (and adults) around the world dreamed of building rockets, exploring space and going where no-one had gone before.

Only weeks after Sputnik went into orbit, one Australian boy tried to make his dream a reality. Denis Cox sent his plans for a rocket ship to ‘A Top Scientist at Woomera Rocket Range, South Australia’.

The rocket Denis envisaged is powered by four Rolls Royce jet engines which can be fired individually or together as required. Guided missiles give the craft military capability. An integrated radio and radar antenna mounted on the nose of the rocket provides the pilot and navigator with access to tracking and communications systems.

Seeing a greater role for Australia in the space race, Denis emphasised that his rocket would have ‘Australian markings’. Having provided the rocket prototype, the young designer invited the top scientist to ‘put in other details’.

Keen to know how his ideas would be received, Denis instructed the scientist to ‘Please write me a letter back’.

Woomera Rocket Range in South Australia was established in April 1947 under the Joint United Kingdom–Australia Long Range Weapons Project (1946–80). The collaboration would see Australia play a key role in the development of rocket technology and would have a far-reaching impact on our defence and security policy.

The first missile from Woomera was launched on 22 March 1949. Woomera has been used for atomic weapons testing, satellite launches and for tracking spacecraft, including the Mercury manned mission.


  • read caption below
    Rocket ship design by Denis Cox, 1957
  • read caption below
    Envelope addressed by Denis Cox to Woomera Rocket Range, 1957
  • read caption below
    Letter sent to Woomera Rocket Range by Denis Cox, 1957.

More records to explore

The National Archives has an extensive collection of plans, photographs and other documents relating to joint defence projects between Australia, Britain and the United States. You can find related items by searching our online database RecordSearch.

Click on the links below to view a selection of records associated with the Joint United Kingdom–Australia Long Range Weapons Project (1946–80).

A selection of records relating to Woomera

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018