Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Ariel Satellite Programme - (Part 1)

As the 1960s dawned Russia and the USA had already launched satellites in 1957 and 1958 respectively, and still being in the predicament of ‘rockets or satelliltes’ Great Britain were determined to not be left behind and opted for the latter.

The Ariel programme was born. A scientific research programme that eventually gave birth to six satellites between 1962 and 1979. Making good use of the positive relationship between Britain and the USA, the Ariel satellites were placed into orbit by NASA rockets, the first two of which were American built rockets and the third to sixth being produced in Britain.

Ariel 1 to 4 covered a wide range of scientific study, from thunderstorms on Earth, Solar activity to radio waves picked up from deep inside the Galaxy.
Ariel 5 and 6 were primarily concerned with X-Rays, Ariel 5 focussing on position measurements of X-Ray stars and analysis of the received energy spectra. Some of the science studies conducted included:
  • Long-term monitoring of a multiple X-ray sources
  • The discovery of several long-period X-ray pulsars (with periods of minutes rather than seconds)
  • Establishing Seyfert 1 galaxies (a type of active galactic nucleus) as a class of X-ray emitters
  • Discovery of iron line emission from extragalactic sources
Ariel 6 was to carry and conduct a trio of experiments but due to ground based interference from radar sources, the data returned was very limited. The studies carried out by Ariel 6 included the following:
  • 1 x Cosmic Ray experiment
  • 2 x X-Ray experiments

Ariel 1
Ariel 1, also known as UK-1 and S-55, was launched in 1962 atop a Thor-Delta Rocket from Cape Canaveral as Britain's first satellite.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Ariel 1 at launch in 1962

Although late to the game, the 39th satellite launched, Britain were still only the third country to launch a satellite into orbit.
Sadly Ariel 1 was doomed to have a very short life. Launched on April 26th 1962, it was subsequently, accidentally, damaged on July 9th of that year by the Starfish Prime, High Altitude Nuclear test conducted by the United States. Limping on, it was utilised again from August 25th 1964 until November 9th 1964 to retrieve data alongside Nasa’s Explorer 20 and finally decayed from orbit on April 24h 1976, nearly 14 years to the day after it’s launch.

The satellite:
  • 62-kg cylinder
  • 58-cm diameter
  • 22-cm height
  • Tape recorder
  • Instrumentation for
    • One cosmic-ray experiment
    • Two solar emissions experiments
    • Three ionospheric experiments

Image Credit: Unknown
Ariel 1 Satellite

Ariel 2
It wasn’t until 1964 that Britain launched their next satellite. This time utilised for the purpose of radio astronomy (making it the first radio astronomy satellite), Ariel 2 was launched on March 27th 1964 from Wallops Island aboard a Scout X-3 Rocket

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Ariel 2 at launch in 1964

Specifically the satellite studied long wavelength radio noise from the Earth's Ionosphere and the Milky Way galaxy among other data gathering.
Having succeeded in its mission, Ariel 2 subsequently decayed from its low Earth orbit on November 18th 1967 after ceasing its operations in November 1964 after only 8 months.

Image Credit: Cooper Hewitt
Ariel 2 Satellite

Ariel 3
Following the first (mostly) successful launches of Ariel 1 and 2, Ariel 3 became the first artificial satellite to be completely designed and constructed in Great Britain in the town of stevenage. Launched on May 5th 1967 from Vandenburg Air Force Base, CA, Ariel 3 rode a Scout A rocket to a final orbit of up to 608km.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Scout A rocket of the type to carry Ariel 3 to orbit

  • The Satellite:
  • 57-cm-high
  • 12-sided prism with 69.6 cm between any pair of parallel sides
  • 24.2-cm-high conical structure bearing various antennas attached to the top of the prism
  • Tape recorder
  • Instrumentation for 5 experiments
    • Mapping of noise forces within the milky way
    • Measuring electronic entity
    • Study of low frequency radio signals
    • Distribution of oxygen and light
    • Anomalous propagation from radio beacons

Image Credit: Unknown
Ariel 3 Satellite
Image Credit: Unknown
Sketch of Ariel 3 Satellite

On 24 October 1967 the tape recorder aboard Ariel 3 began to malfunction but data collection from real-time operation remained possible. Ariel 3 went on to suffer a major power failure in December 1968. This meant that operation of the satellite could only be conducted during daylight hours. The satellite being finally shut down in September 1969 its went on to decay from its orbit December 14th 1970.

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