50 years on: honouring the Trinity alumni behind the launch of the first Australian-built satellite

By Emily McAuliffe

In 1970, NASA launched an Australian-built satellite into space for the first time, much to the delight of the University of Melbourne – and Trinity College students – who made it. Now, 50 years later, the clever creators have been recognised at a ceremony held at Melbourne University.

On the left: Dr Owen Mace (TC 1965) with Steve Howard (TC 1965)

Yesterday a large crowd gathered at the University of Melbourne’s University House to honour the alumni who were behind Australia’s first homegrown – and operational – satellite. Amongst those being recognised was Dr Owen Mace and Steve Howard, two long-time friends from Trinity College, who were part of the small team that side-hustled to build a satellite, then hatch a plan to send it into space (by NASA, no less).

As it turned out, NASA agreed, and on 24 January 1970, up it went. 

‘There were some grave doubts amongst some of us,’ admits Steve. ‘But I was pretty confident it would work.’ He was right. Steve and the team of seemingly innocent student engineers didn’t just make a satellite, they made history. 

‘Nobody in Australia had built a satellite at that stage, so there was nobody around to tell us it couldn’t be done,’ says Owen. ‘We just went ahead and did it.’ And as a pragmatic bunch, Owen says they were always planning to send their creation into orbit. ‘The first thing we did was realise that, it’s all well and good to build a satellite, but you’ve got to have it launched.’

A polite letter to Project OSCAR, who had launched satellites through the US Air Force, set the wheels in motion, and after a false start with the Air Force, Australis OSCAR 5 was launched by NASA a few years later.

The satellite still orbits to this day (albeit as space junk), and to this day, we’re proud to say Trinity College students dared to dream big, and dared to turn their dreams into reality.  

28 Feb 2020
Category: People