Sunday, April 09, 2017

Part 4: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Radar, Better Radar (of the "Synthetic Aperture" Variety), Project Quill, 

CARDE, Velvet Glove & Black Brant

Galileo and his telescope. Graphic c/o National Geographic.
         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.
It could be argued that the first person to engage in remote sensing was Galileo Galilei back in 1609. He didn't invent the telescope, but he seems to have been the first to realise that it could reveal previously unattainable information from impossibly remote distances.

A few decades later Sir Isaac Newton discovered that a simple prism could unfold the secrets of light, no matter how distant the source. More than a century later William Wollaston discovered that the spectrum which had been revealed by Newton's prism contained dark lines; this was the birth of the spectrometer.

But the next major breakthrough in true remote sensing would have to wait until the Second World War with the intense development of "radar." The idea for "radio detection and ranging" had been around for several decades but it would take the great conflict of the 1940s to accelerate the technology into practical use.

By the end of the war every government in the world was aware of radar, although most people had little understanding that it worked by bouncing a pulse of radio waves off a distant target and then collecting the echo. It could do this through any weather.

At the end of the war the Douglas Aircraft Company in California formed the RAND group to study the potential of an earth-orbiting satellite. Their secret 1946-47 reports clearly outlined the use of satellites for weather forecasting, observation and communications. The prime military value in such a project was being able to study the ionosphere (to better understand communications interference) and to see bomb crater damage after a nuclear strike. However, an onboard radar transmitter wasn't even considered by RAND because the technology was still too big and primitive to be mounted in their proposed satellite, which only had a payload capacity of 10lbs, so they suggested using a powerful optical camera or possibly a television camera.

One of the fundamental truths about radar is that the amount of detail in the image is affected by the physical size of the antenna that sends out the original pulse. A bigger antenna means more detail. In 1953 Kurt Stehling seems to have anticipated many of the problems associated with using radar from space, including the need for a large antenna and suitable equipment to transmit the data to the ground.

In 1951 an engineer at Goodyear working on the top secret Atlas ICBM had proposed the idea that a radar antenna might be able to operate while in motion, effectively simulating a much bigger array. Six years later, just such a device, installed on an aircraft flying in a straight line at a constant altitude, was able to create an image of an airport in Michigan. The image was crude and distorted because the aircraft was never truly flying straight, but the engineers who were involved knew that given enough advances in computing power, this was a problem that could be solved by mathematics.

The value of this new "synthetic aperture radar" (SAR) was that it had the potential to collect huge swathes of data in extreme detail. However, before computers could catch up and begin to compensate for all of the variables in this system, it was realised that a satellite is not buffeted by winds and its course is much more predictable. Almost immediately the United States Air Force began a secret project named "Quill" which would place a primitive SAR in the nose of an Agena booster and place it into orbit. Its goal was, like the RAND proposal, to see if it could detect the location of nuclear bomb craters and report that information quickly to the ground. Quill was launched in December of 1964 and worked perfectly.

While radar was finally beginning to peer through the haze, atmospheric interference was still a major problem for communications and the Canadian government soon recognised the potential to use rockets for studying the upper atmosphere.

The Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) in Valcartier, Quebec was chosen as the central R&D clearing house for this new technology. CARDE was part of the Defense Research Board (DRB) which operated as a fourth arm of the military establishment. The DRB was a post-WWII offshoot of the much older National Research Council (NRC). From 1916 until 1947 the NRC had been responsible for both civilian-industrial scientific research and military research. After 1947 the DRB took over the solely military programs and the NRC reverted to its role of aiding civilian industrial and academic research.

Today the DRB is known as Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). By giving this important new technology to CARDE it clearly shows that the rocket was, even in Canada, considered first and foremost as a weapon.

One of the first advanced rocket programs undertaken at CARDE was an air to air missile named "Velvet Glove" which was to be used on Canadian fighter planes. Canadair, a major aircraft manufacturer in Montreal had initially been designing this advanced missile to be used on the CF-100, but soon plans were announced for a supersonic fighter and the Velvet Glove was to be reassigned to this new aircraft.

However, in 1954 the Velvet Glove program was cancelled in favour of an as-yet untested American built missile. This cancellation put many engineers' jobs at risk in Montreal and alerted the government to the need for more high-technology work in the aerospace sector.

A high powered oxygen hydrogen gun had also been installed at CARDE for firing projectiles at speeds of up to 14,000 feet per second. Gerald Bull was using this gun to fire different shapes of projectiles to test their flight qualities and also to see how different materials reacted to extremely high temperatures. One of the purposes of this was to see if an anti-missile missile could be designed and built.

The same year that Velvet Glove was cancelled a new large sounding rocket named the Raven was being developed in England to send payloads out into space and bring them back at high speed. The Bristol Aircraft Company was asked to adapt this missile for Canada's specific needs. A new fuel was developed at CARDE and the rocket was renamed the "Black Brant."

Canada was on the front edge of ABM technology and the Black Brant was one of the missiles being proposed for this purpose, but it would never be fired in anger. It was adapted by Albert Fia of Alberta to probe the upper atmosphere with a host of instruments in an attempt to get a better understanding of why long-range radio communications could still be interrupted by space weather from the sun. The Black Brant family of rockets would become one of Canada's most important aerospace products.
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, "Rockets, Mosquitoes, Lancaster's, UTIAS, and the Cold War" in part three of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "The International Geophysical Year, the Avro Arrow & Jetliner, Lapp, Stehling, Bull & Blue Streak," as part five of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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