National Treasure #74: Alouette et al

Launched on September 29, 1962, the Alouette-I scientific satellite marked Canada’s entry into the space age and was seen by many as initiating the most progressive space program of that era. With the Alouette launch, Canada became the first nation, after the Russian and American superpowers, to design and build its own artificial Earth satellite. Canadian Space Agency site

Under the leadership of John Chapman, recognized as the father of Canada’s space program, a Defence and Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) team developed the Alouette to monitor the ionosphere.

Alouette-I was a tremendous success by any measure. The conservative research approach adopted by the DRTE team paid off manyfold as the satellite eventually stretched its one-year design life into an unprecedented 10-year mission, producing over one million images of the ionosphere in the process. Canadian Space Agency site

Alouette was an impressive achievement, but just one of many others that were news to me: see the milestones in Canada’s space program. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Monitoring (1957) – Within hours of Sputnik’s launch, John Chapman and fellow scientists at DRTE are the first to record its beeps.

Launching sub-orbital satellites (1959) – The Black Brant 1, the first all-Canadian sounding rocket, built by Bristol Aerospace of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is launched at the Churchill Range. Over 3,500 suborbital sounding rockets would be launched from the site to probe the upper atmosphere.

Designing hardware (1960 – 1969) – Antennas to landing gear:

  • 1960 – Launch of US navigation satellite Transit 2A with a cosmic noise receiver, the first Canadian hardware in space.
  • 1961 – Astronaut Alan B. Shepard becomes the first American in space after a 15-minute suborbital flight aboard his Freedom 7 capsule. The communication antenna of the spacecraft is Canadian, and is known as STEM (storable tubular extendible mechanism), built by de Havilland Aircraft of Downsview, Ontario.
  • 1962 – Astronaut John H. Glenn achieves the first US orbital manned flight when his Friendship 7 capsule, also equipped with a Canadian-built STEM antenna, circles the Earth three times during a five-hour space flight.
  • 1965 – A Thor-Agena B rocket launches Canada’s Alouette 2 from Vandenberg AFB, to continue ionospheric research from space. This first of the ISIS (International Satellites for Ionospheric Studies) scientific satellites will compile useful data on the ionosphere for almost 10 years. It was designed and built by Canada, but launched by NASA.
  • 1969 – At 10:56 pm (EDT) on this historic Sunday, US astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander of mission Apollo 11, becomes the first man to set foot on the Moon. Fifteen minutes later, Buzz Aldrin climbs down the ladder of the lunar module to join his commander. Using a landing gear built by Héroux Aerospace of Longueuil, Quebec, the Eagle had touched down more than six hours earlier (4:17 pm) in the Sea of Tranquility.

And that’s just the stuff from more than 45 years ago. Sort of an embarrassment of treasures, no?


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