Thursday, May 18, 2017

Part 10: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, Synthetic Aperture Radar, 

SEASAT, John Macdonald and MDA

John MacDonald in 2008. Photo AM Jackson/Globe and Mail.
          By Robert Godwin
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.

In 1966 the first really sophisticated earth observation satellite, called the Earth Resources Observation Satellite (EROS) had been announced by the US Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS sent a delegate to Ottawa where he was officially offered the use of the massive antenna in Prince Albert Saskatchewan which was no longer being used for ISIS or Alouette. In exchange for this valuable asset Canada would be allowed to read the downlink from EROS. However, EROS was cancelled due to some political machinations and replaced by NASA's ERTS (later renamed Landsat).

It subsequently took until 1969 before NASA agreed to let Canada "read" data from ERTS. John Macdonald and his team at MDA convinced Morley and other key actors in the government that they could set up a ground station for a tenth of what the US was paying for similar facilities. They didn't get the contract, but they did get to install what they called QuickLook; a system which generated an image from the ERTS data in minutes, while NASA's best efforts took four days to get the full data stream converted. On the strength of this amazing achievement MDA was hired to provide a ground station at Shoe Cove, Newfoundland in time for the next generation of advanced remote sensing.

Two photo's showing all that remains of Canada’s first satellite tracking station, in Shoe Cove, Newfoundland today, and how it looked in the late 1970's. As outlined in the December 16th, 2015 Hidden Newfoundland post, "Satellite Tracking Station in Shoe Cove," the station was one of twelve originally built under an international agreement created by the NASA in the early 1960's. As outlined in the article, "this network of stations were part of the newly formed Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN). Based out of Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, STADAN was made up a number of sites that were located in places such as Alaska, Great Britain, Australia and Africa. Each site had the capabilities to track and acquire location data from a number of satellites that were orbiting the earth." In 1977 a second facility, was constructed at this location by the CCRS to collect recorded data from three specific satellites; Landsat II, Landsat III, and a National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) monitor satellite. Photo's c/o Hidden Newfoundland.

In February 1971 Morley had finally gained approval to establish a Federal remote sensing group which became known as the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS). This group issued a string of reports including a revolutionary one by Phil Lapp entitled "Observables and Parameters of Remote Sensing." In three dozen pages Lapp spelled out how remote sensing could be efficiently applied to daily life in Canada.

But remote sensing was still primarily a process carried out by aircraft. The Canadian Air Force had willingly offered up several aircraft, including CF-100 fighters and DC-3s, to be used for aerial remote sensing. It was important to test experimental sensors in aircraft before even contemplating the huge expense of sending them into space.

Around this time Kurt Stehling wrote an article in Space/Aeronautics magazine entitled "Spotting Pollution from Space." In his usually adept way Stehling spelled out the problem in plain language:
The answer lies in larger aircraft, capable of flying at higher altitudes, spacecraft complemented by aircraft. For not only would aircraft supplement satellite observations and aid in photo interpretation—always a difficult problem—but they would be used whenever clouds obscured the earth's surface or whenever sudden, highly localized pollution required immediate observation. In addition, they would serve as flying test beds in the development of new and improved spacecraft sensors.
The payload capacity of the planes available to Morley through normal channels was insufficient and so through some hard bargaining CCRS purchased a Convair 580. This purchase then opened the door to some cross-border cooperation.

The technique which was about to change everything was synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and if deployed on-board a satellite it promised to completely revolutionize the art of map-making and resource prospecting. It would overcome all of the issues with simple microwave radar in space which Stehling had outlined years earlier. Most importantly it would allow the government to understand the true geophysical and geopolitical nature of the under-populated and vast country named Canada. A company in Michigan which had been involved in early development of the technology owned an SAR system but they didn't have an aircraft large enough to use it. They made a deal with the CCRS to share their resources.

By this time Stehling had moved over to the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He had now fully refined his original idea from 1953 and through his role advising Vice President Hubert Humphrey he had proposed putting SAR on a science satellite and using it to map the world's oceans and coastlines. If this could be accomplished the whole problem of using only aircraft to monitor Canada's remote coastlines would be solved. This would have repercussions across all aspects of Canadian aerospace including the huge problem of which aircraft the country needed for defence. The first SAR science satellite was to be called Seasat and it would carry all of the instruments Stehling had proposed in 1968.

Meanwhile, since the early moon landings had been so successful, it was time to do some science aboard more sophisticated versions of Apollo, and that meant not wasting a single opportunity. The same kind of data that Phil Lapp had been seeking 20 years earlier while flying over northern Ontario was now going to be gathered from lunar orbit.

 The Lunar Mapping and Panoramic Cameras were mounted in the forward portion of the Apollo Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) in bay 1 of the Service Module on Apollo 'J' missions on Apollo 15 to 17. Graphic c/o Apollo Flight Journal

The so-called "J" Missions would include an experiments payload bay in the Apollo Service Module.

At the very base of this bay two STEM were installed; one to carry a Gamma-Ray Spectrometer and the other for a Mass Spectrometer. Each would be extended more than 20 feet out into space and the data they would record would be synchronized with a panoramic camera, a mapping camera and a laser altimeter. The resulting data would forever alter our understanding of the moon.

In 1971, while the first J Mission was flying over the lunar surface, MDA was given its first contract to install electronics at the space ground station in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. The Prince Albert Facility had originally been set up in 1959 as a joint project of the United States and Canada. The 84 foot diameter radar dish had been installed because it was believed that the aurora could mask the approach of incoming warheads. It was also believed that the aurora could interfere with communications with any ABM system.

The location of the $10Mln CDN facility about 15km west of Prince Albert had been a boon for the district, which perhaps not entirely coincidentally happened to be the home riding of then Prime Minister Diefenbaker.

When MDA were invited to install their first system it was to coincide with the data coming down from the first ERTS (Landsat) satellite. Prince Albert had evolved from an experimental ABM facility to a satellite down-link, and was now to become an integral part of Canada's resource monitoring.
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Last Week, "Stehling, Maynard, the Lunar Excursion Module, Gerald Bull, James Chamberlin & Phil Lapp,'" in part nine of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "MDA's Rise, Spar's Fall, STEM Antenna's, the Space Shuttle, the Canadarm, 
COMDEV & Optech," as part eleven of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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