This Week in History


Canada Joins the Space Age

For the week of Monday September 29, 2008

On September 29, 1962, the Alouette 1 was launched from Vandenberg, California, aboard a Thor-Agena B rocket, establishing Canada as the third nation in space! Prior to the Alouette 1, the only nations to have satellites in orbit were the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Alouette 1 Satellite
© Canadian Space Agency
The Alouette 1 is a landmark achievement in Canadian engineering. In 1987, it was deemed one of the 10 greatest achievements in a hundred years of Canadian engineering. In 1993 it gained international commendations from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the world’s largest technical organization, when it was announced as an International Milestone of Electrical Engineering.

Alouette 1 came about when Canadian scientists with the Defence Research Board (DRB) responded to an invitation from the United States to participate in joint space programs. A proposal was submitted in 1958 to NASA by the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment, a branch of DRB. Dr. Eldon Warren is credited with the concept. The proposal was accepted and work on the project began immediately under the leadership of Dr. John Chapman. A team of more than a hundred scientific and engineering staff was involved. Alouette 1 turned out to be an outstanding success lasting in space for 10 years whereas other satellites of that era only lasted a few months. Its success was attributed to the excellence of the engineering design and construction.

Dr. Leroy Nelms and Dr. John Chapman toasting the Alouette 1 Satellite
© Ted Grant / Library and Archives Canada
The satellite was designed to study the ionosphere which is the layer of ionized gas above the earth. The ionosphere was essential for transmitting short-wave radio signals over long distances. Signals bounce off the ionosphere and return to earth to be received by a distant radio station. At that time short-wave radio provided the only mode of communication with the north. DRB scientists sought to determine why radio contact with the north was often disrupted by variations in the ionosphere. During its 10-years in orbit, Alouette 1 aided in the study of the ionosphere by sending more than one million images of the ionosphere back to earth.

The success of the Alouette 1 helped pave the way for the establishment of institutions such as the Canadian Space Agency, Telesat Canada, the Communications Research Centre and the David Florida Lab.

The Alouette 1 Satellite Programme has been designated a National Historic Event for establishing Canada, only the third nation in space, as an international leader in spacecraft engineering and space research.

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