Island Lagoon Tracking Station

The first deep-space station to be established outside the United States by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was at Woomera, Australia. It was designated as DSS 41. In February 1959, a survey team selected a location in a natural depression near the Island Lagoon dry lake bed, about 56 kilometres south of the rangehead of the Woomera Rocket Range. In August 1960, negotiations were completed for a US-Australian agreement to operate NASA stations in Australia. A Radio Construction Company crew under the supervision of a JPL engineer Floyd W. Stoller erected a 26-metre, polar-mounted antenna similar to the one at the Goldstone Pioneer station in California. From August to November 1960, JPL engineer Richard K. Mallis supervised a JPL-Collins Radio Company team that installed the electronics on the antenna. DSN17

The station was operated by the Australian Department of Supply (DOS), whose Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) managed the Woomera range. The DOS/WRE appointed William Mettyear as the first station director. The facility employed more than 100 professional, technical and administrative staff who lived at Woomera Village. The Department of Supply gave the contract for operational and maintenance services to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd.

The tracking station participated in various projects involving spacecraft which ventured more than 16,000 kilometres from Earth, including the first successful mission to another planet - the flyby of Venus by Mariner 2 during December 1962 - and the first successful flyby of Mars (Mariner 4 in July 1965). It also played a key role in the Ranger and Lunar Orbiter missions which provided valuable information in the lead-up to the Apollo missions to the Moon.  The antenna was also available to Australian astronomers for astronomical research between missions.

The Woomera station ceased operations on December 22, 1972, as part of a consolidation of NASA station facilities. After the DOS determined that the cost of transporting the antenna to a new, more accessible location for radio astronomers would be prohibitive, the antenna was dismantled and sold for scrap in 1973.

The Island Lagoon area was also the site of a large Baker Nunn camera installed during 1958 as part of the International Geophysical Year (1957-58) activities. The camera could photograph orbiting satellites which had ceased transmitting or gather more precise orbital data than was obtainable by electronic tracking. The Baker Nunn camera was equipped with a 81-centimetre diameter mirror and could photograph objects as faint as 15th magnitude (about 1/4,000th the brightness of the faintest stars visible to the average person). The camera was also used for astronomical observations of flare stars and comets.

A History of Woomera
Research Missiles
Tracking Stations
Range News
Gibber Gabber
Woomera Village
Woomera Life
Memories of Woomera

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Copyright © 1997-2007  Mark T. Rigby
(Last updated: 14 August, 2007)