Historical Satellite Tracker Saved From Scrap Heap

In a bit of rare Australian space news, the  Arnhemland Historical Society has managed to save one of the satellite trackers used during the 1960s and 1970s from the scrap heap. As the Space Race intensified during the 1950s and 1960s, every nation wanted a piece of this new technology. A number of European nations banded together in the form of ELDO, the European Launcher Development Organisation.

Australia was a partner in this program, with launches of the Europa-1 and Europa-2 rockets taking place from Woomera, South Australia. Initially the UK’s cancelled Blue Streak IRBM program provided the first stage for Europa-1, but this was later replaced with the French Diamant. France also provided the Coralie second stage in addition to the German-developed Astris third stage.

The satellite tracker being dismantled at the South Australian defence base before it was trucked north. (Photo: Arnhemland Historical Society)

The first launch of the Europa-1 took place in 1966, with the rocket performing well, but inaccurate readings from a radar station leading to the rocket to be wrongly instructed to self-destruct. Of nine launches, four were successful, with the satellite trackers at Arnhemland providing tracking support. Ultimately, the many technical setbacks led to the demise of ELDO, and it was merged by the 1970s into what is now the European Space Agency, with its main launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

Despite the lack of success, these early days at Woomera were instrumental in getting Europe’s feet wet in the development of the Ariane rockets. Woomera’s rocketing days may also not be over yet, with NASA having announced  in 2019 plans to use Woomera for launches.

Maybe one day Arnhemland will have its own space port, with the old satellite track on display to remind of those early days.

[Top photo: The ELDO satellite trackers were state-of-the-art when they stood in Gove in the 1960s. (Supplied: Arnhemland Historical Society)]

(Thanks, David)

23 thoughts on “Historical Satellite Tracker Saved From Scrap Heap

    1. I wouldn’t mind one in my rooftop, it doesnt look that big, around 3~5m diameter?
      Some BUDs from the eighties were bigger, the real trick here is that these are military grade construction and fully steerable.
      Is dish envy a thing?

  1. For an article that’s titled to feature the satellite trackers, the article itself has pretty much nothing to do with them beyond a brief captioned picture noting their removal. The whole article is about rockets and the agency instead with no details on the trackers!

    1. That would be nice, it might only take a PC and an SDR to complete the receiver side.
      And now there are a lot more motor controller boards available to help steer the dish.
      Depending on the designed frequency, could it be pointed at a geostationary sat and down load weather info
      (to display at the museum)?

  2. As an Aussie I’m mildly offended by your opening line; “In a bit of rare Australian space news” as just 3 days ago this was the space news ” Australia’s first private space rocket blasts off from Koonibba Aboriginal community”

    1. I’m not sure what your taking offense at…. Australian space news is fairly rare…. We haven’t put anything into orbit yet… From memory, the last really newsworthy event was when a piece of Skylab fell on us….

      1. “Thus, in the incredibly short span of only 11 months, Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT (WRE Satellite) was designed, constructed, tested and finally launched on 29 November 1967…. when Australia became the fifth country (third from its own territory) to launch a satellite. ”

        Prior to this, the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE, now DSTO) at Woomera, SA, was already supporting the launch of rockets that flew above the edge of space, nominally agreed as starting at 100kms altitude. The British Skylark missile carried research payloads up to 150kms, and was first launched on
        13 February 1957.

        Note that Sputnik 1 was launched on the 4th of October, 1957.

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