May 1961 Popular Electronics
[Table of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic
about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through
April 1985. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
Prior to around 1960, the nature of electromagnetic radiation outside
the Earth's atmosphere was entirely a matter of scientific conjecture.
As is evidenced by this 1961 article, at the time it was still not known
for certain whether electromagnetic energy outside the bands transmitted
through the ionosphere existed for sure. There was of course no reason
to believe that low frequency, long wavelength radio waves were not
present along with the rest of the spectrum, but experiments needed
to be developed that would launch satellites above the atmosphere to
detect probable out-of-band signals and then re-transmit them on frequencies
known to easily penetrate the 'ether.' Many failures occurred along
the way, but persistence paid off in what is today a very well explored
and documented outer space. Prior to the last half decade, groups like
NASA were more interested in conducting research than wasting precious
allocated funds on unrelated projects like the utterly unrelated studies
end of western civilization and
outreaches to certain religious groups.
See all articles from
Space Electronics: Satellites and ET EM Waves
monthly report on satellite electronics and communication in interstellar
By Oliver P. Ferrell
The atmosphere we breathe has a dual purpose-it supplies life-sustaining
oxygen and serves as an "invisible shield" to protect earthlings from
the harmful radiation abounding in outer space. This shield does have
one tremendous disadvantage: radiation that cannot pierce the shield
from without is therefore probably unknown to us - and part of this
radiation is in the radio-frequency band below 500 kc. Scientists have
long wondered if by any chance there are radio signals outside the earth's
atmosphere in the very-long-wave band. The only way to find out is to
go outside the atmosphere and listen.
What's Out There Department. Just such a project is
being discussed as a joint British/NASA venture for 1961-62. Signals
picked up by special British receiving equipment tuned to the low frequencies
would be rebroadcast on the v.h.f. channels. A trailing long wire ejected
by the satellite would make a resonant antenna system.
Apparently damaged during the unfolding of Explorer IX, the
beacon transmitter di not operate. It was powered by solar cells.
Explorer IX was carefully packed into nose of Scout II rocket
and launched by NASA. Test was only partially successful.
Spinning satellite, built by Hughes Aircraft, is an "active"
repeater. It weighs 32 pounds and is powered by silicon cells.
The Transit satellites are navigational beacons operating
on paired frequencies. Transit III-B is on 54, 162, 216, and
The "neck" joining Transit III-B and the NRL LOFTI satellite
failed to separate after February 21 launch.
Scientists reason that long-wave reception should be pretty good
1000 miles above the surface. Lightning static which prohibits low-frequency
reception of weak signals will probably be largely screened off by the
A "reverse" of this experiment was conducted during the lifetime
of satellite Explorer VI (launched August 7, 1959). Aboard the payload
was a U. S. Navy receiver tuned to NSS on 15.5 kc. Apparently the idea
was to determine the strength of this low-frequency signal - the results
have never been made known. Some Navy technicians say that satellites
may provide the answer to communicating with underwater submarines,
but just how remains a mystery in our eyes - packing "Big Jim," the
Navy's present megawatt long-wave transmitter, into a satellite doesn't
seem quite possible.
A second attempt to monitor powerful signals on the low frequencies
was made with the LOFTI satellite - launched February 21, 1961. LOFTI
contained a U. S. Navy receiver tuned to the 300,000-watt signal of
NBA. This station is on 18 kc. from the Canal Zone. This satellite rode
"piggy-back" on Transit III-B (see photo above). One of the two low-frequency
receivers aboard LOFTI is working and the characteristics of 18-kc.
reception are being recorded.
Satellite Briefings. Although the Russians have
widely publicized the "fact" that their Venus probe satellite operates
on 922.8 mc., it has not been heard by monitors in North America. The
British receiving station at Jodrell Bank was given sufficient information
to track this satellite in late February. However, the Russian Venus
probe did not respond to "ground command" signals after February 22nd
(it was launched February 12th). Keyed to respond every five days, the
Venus probe could not be heard on Monday, February 27th, nor Saturday,
The Venus probe is supposed to have carried four antennas - one non-directional,
two moderately wide beams, and one very sharp beam antenna. The latter
beam had been designed to unfold to a six-foot diameter when the probe
reached the vicinity of Venus.
A 12-foot polka-dot balloon was launched by NASA from Wallops Island
on February 16. Called Explorer IX, the beacon transmitter - operating
on 136 mc. - was damaged as the balloon unfolded from the rocket's fourth
stage. Several days later the satellite was "found" through optical
means and is now in orbit. Explorer IX is too small for Echo-type communications
and was launched to measure air drag on balloon satellites in the upper
Three new satellites can be added to the list of "Radio Signals from
the Satellites" appearing on page 65 of our April column. They are Discoverer
XXI, gathering infrared data, Transit III-B, and LOFTL. Frequencies
used by Discoverer XXI have not been revealed. Transit III-B is putting
out weak signals on exactly 54, 162, 216 and 324 mc. (the same as Transit
II-A), plus a special transmitting setup on 224, 421 and 448 mc. LOFTI
is on 136.0 mc.
As we mentioned last month, Echo-type satellites are also called
"passive" satellites - meaning that they simply reflect radio signals.
Active satellites contain radio receivers and transmitters to rebroadcast
signals upon command from ground stations. The Courier I-B is a good
example of a working "active" satellite.
Vastly improved passive satellites have been suggested by the Ryan
Aeronautical people. Some of their proposed designs are shown at the
bottom. Included are the corner reflector, wide-band multi-helix, and
resonant dipoles with dual polarization. Each design has been calculated
to be more efficient than the spherical balloon. Engineers and space
experimenters hope that the resonant dipole idea will be exploited in
a satellite launching later in 1961.
Because of interference problems near the 108 mc. frequency used
by the American satellites, all launchings after June 1961 will be tracked
with beacons operating between 136 and 137 mc. Minitrack stations (to
be discussed in a later column) are being converted to receive 136-mc.
Space Studies. Two frequencies have been allocated
to the ITT Laboratories, Nutley, N.J., for study of space communications
theory. The authorization is for 2120 and 2299.5 mc., although the latter
channel will be the only one available after July 1.
According to reports, ITT will bounce signals from passive satellites
(and possibly the moon) in order to study interference to conventional
earthbound systems. All transmissions will be from Nutley, N. J., with
a power of about 10 kw.
At Minus-One. Two California scientists have recommended
that a special radio transmitter be included in our Mars and Venus probes.
This transmitter would not be operated by any personnel sent on such
expeditions, but would be a "last gasp" transmitter - should the probe
be destroyed by intelligent beings!
Suggested designs for passive or Echo-type satellites
worked up by Ryan Aeronautical Company. At the top is a corner reflector
fitted into a sphere. In the center, 26 cones have been formed into
helical antennas. At bottom, dipole strips have been attached to the
balloon - they are at right angles to one another to counteract polarization
changes as the satellite spins and wobbles in orbit.
Posted April 17, 2014