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Space Archaeology » Artefacts

Asterix-1

A-1 was the first French satellite, launched on 26 November 1965 from the soon-to-close Hammaguir launch site in Algeria (which had gained independence from French rule a few years earlier). The original designation of A-1 was later changed in honour of the cartoon character, Asterix (although it had almost been called Zebulon or Zebby, after a puppet from the telelvision show The Magic Roundabout). With the launch of Asterix, France became the third country to launch its own satellite, and the sixth to have a satellite in orbit (the UK, Canada and Italy had satellites launched previously on American rockets). Asterix had been developed as part of a kind of internal French space race. It was built and launched just ten days before the FR-1 satellite was launched on an American Scout rocket. Weighing … Read entire article »

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Cosmos-2222

Cosmos 2222 was launched twenty years ago on 25 November, 1992 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. The 1900 kilogram US-K model satellite was part of the Oko (eye) program, which were intended to identify ballistic missile launches through infra-red detection of their exhaust. To detect these launches the satellites were equipped with a distinctive telescope equipped with a four metre sunshade. Cosmos 2222 ceased functioning in December 1996, but remains in orbit today, along with the Molniya rocket body that launched it. … Read entire article »

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Cosmos-312

Cosmos 312 was the fifth of the Soviet Sfera satellites (thus also known as Sfera 5), launched on 24 November 1969. The Sfera (sphere) program was a series of geodetic satellites used to improve the accuracy of maps – and of long-range weapons systems. The satellites held flashing lights to indicate their position relative to the surrounding starfields and thus used to measure the position of points on the earth’s surface to within a few dozen meters. Still in orbit today, Cosmos 312 is accompanied by the rocket booster that launched it. … Read entire article »

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Skynet 1A

Skynet 1A was the first of the Skynet family of British military communication satellites. The satellite was a 422 kilogram spin-stabilised cylinder (a “spinner”), 810 mm high and 1370 mm in diameter with a despun antenna platform, built by Philco Ford/Ford Aerospace in the United States (later Skynet satellites were built in the United Kingdom). The Skynet program was begun after Lord Mountbatten recommended that the three armed forces use a single method of communication, and the satellite was intended to provide secure voice, telegraph and fax. Two ships, Fearless and Intrepid were fitted with 2 metre dish stations to work with Skynet 1. Launched on 22 November 1969 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta M rocket, Skynet 1A was the second geostationary military satellite, first geostationary military communication satellite and the third geostationary satellite. Placed in orbit … Read entire article »

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Injun 4

The “Injun” satellite series was developed at the University of Iowa by James Van Allen (and his team of “Injuneers”), launched between 1961 and 1974 to study radiation and magnetic phenomena in the ionosphere and beyond. Injun 1 was the first satellite developed by a university. They notably monitored radiation from the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test and mapped the Van Allen belts. The last three of six satellites in the Injun series were launched by NASA as part of the Explorer program, thus Injun 4 is also designated Explorer 25. Originally, Van Allen had intended to name the first satellite of this series Hawkeye, for Iowa’s mascot and football team, but to avoid confusion with the new Hawk missile, he named it Injun, inspired by the Cajun sounding rocket and Mark Twain’s character … Read entire article »

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Solidaridad 1

When Mexico retired its first telecommunications satellites – Morelos 1 and 2 – they turned to their creators at Hughes Space and Communications Company to create replacements. The first replacement was Solidaridad 1, launched along with Meteosat 6 by Ariane rocket from Kourou, French Guiana on 20 November 1993. Also known as Satmex 3, Solidaridad 1′s name was chosen to indicate its role of uniting metropolitan and rural Mexico with the world. The satellite covered Mexico, with some bands extending to the United States, Caribbean and South America, providing “voice telephony, data communications, television relay, facsimile transmission, business networks … educational TV broadcasts … [and] nationwide mobile services.” Twelve thousand rural schools across the country received educational programming transmitted through Solidaridad 1, and some relied entirely on these broadcasts. The satellite was a … Read entire article »

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SOLRAD 8

The United States Navy has a natural interest in Solar radiation because of its impact on radio communications on Earth. During the 1950s, attempts were made to measure radiation from Solar flares using rockets, but it took the advent of the satellite age for the field to mature. The SOLRAD (SOLar RADiation) satellite program began in 1960 and continued until 1976, making it one of the longest-running series of satellites devoted to a single research program. Early SOLRAD satellites were launched with the then-classified GRAB (Galactic Radiation And Background) satellites, the United States’ first intelligence satellites, designed to intercept Soviet signals. The first SOLRAD/GRAB mission was the first multiple-satellite launch. It determined that radio fade-outs were caused by Solar X-ray emissions, was the first orbital observatory and the first satellite to be commanded … Read entire article »

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Selenoglyphs

Geoglyphs are large-scale drawings on the earth’s surface made by either adding or exposing different-coloured material. Historic and archaeological features such as the famous Nazca lines in Peru, or hill figures such as those found in England are examples. People are still making geoglyphs, including the Marree Man created by unknown artists (or vandals?) in the 1990s, and various works of the Land Art movement of the 1960s and 70s. A recent story about Japanese plans to send an anthropomorphic robot to the Moon to draw a flag on the surface set me thinking about lunar geoglyphs. That term, like geology is derived from the Greek word for Earth, Ge. Selenoglyphs would be more appropriate, based on the Greek word for the moon, Selene. The discipline of lunar geology is called selenology, for example. There are … Read entire article »

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How to Disassemble a Planet

In 1960 Freeman Dyson proposed that a sufficiently-motivated civilization might build an ‘artificial biosphere’ around a star in order to fully exploit its radiated energy. This concept has become known as a Dyson sphere. The idea of enclosing a star seems incredible, but as Dyson later wrote: ‘there is nothing so big nor so crazy that one out of a million technological societies may not feel itself driven to do.’ … Read entire article »

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