30th Anniversary of Alouette I
John Palimaka, Telesat Canada
Published in IEEE Canadian Review - Fall 1992
Biography of John Palimaka
Canada entered into the Space Age thirty years ago with the launch of
the Alouette I satellite. Early success in the field of space science
led to strong Canadian programs in satellite communications and remote
sensing, through the cooperative effort of government and industry.
A Milestone of Electrical Engineering
Exactly thirty years ago, on September 29, 1962 the Canadian-built
Alouette I satellite was launched into orbit aboard a Thor-Agena launch
vehicle from the U.S. Pacific Missile Test Range in California. It was
the first satellite launched into space which was built entirely by a
country other that the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. The Alouette/ISIS Program
consisted of four satellites and associated ground-based data analysis
equipment. After the successful launch of Alouette I, Alouette II was
launched in 1965, ISIS I in 1969 and ISIS II in 1971 (ISIS is an acronym
for "International Satellite for Ionospheric Studies"). Both Alouette
satellites were used for ten years, and the ISIS satellites were used
until 1984, when the program was concluded. Japan was authorized to use
the ISIS satellites and continued to do so until the late 1980's. By
1980, over 1100 papers and reports were published, and data continues to
be received from the two ISIS satellites - more than 20 years after the
start of the program.
Early in the history of space exploration, Canadian researchers in space
science concentrated on the study of the earth's upper atmosphere and
the ionosphere. This was due to the need to understand the
characteristics of radio communication in the Canadian North. This area
of study was not as predominant a component of the space science effort
of other countries and therefore the Alouette/ISIS Program was able to
make a major and unique contribution.
This effort led to the realization that a satellite communications
system would be the best way to provide a communications infrastructure
for all of Canada, including the North. A very concrete result of this
was the launch by NASA for Telesat Canada of Anik A1, a
telecommunications satellite designed to satisfy Canada's domestic
communications requirements (Ref. 1).
John H. Chapman
The Alouette/ISIS Program was initiated by Dr. John H. Chapman, who at
his untimely death in 1979 at the age of 58, was the Assistant Deputy
Minister for Space in the Canadian Department of Communications.
At the end of 1958, a proposal was submitted by Canada to NASA for a
scientific satellite to act as an ionospheric topside sounder to study
the effects of the ionosphere on radio communications in the North, from
an orbital altitude of approximately 1,000 km.
As Canadian coordinator of the Alouette Program, John Chapman was
instrumental in the successful launch of the Alouette I satellite (Ref. 2).
In June 1969, a special issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE was devoted
entirely to topside sounding of the ionosphere and the great majority of
the papers in this issue sprung from the analysis of data from the
Alouette satellites (Ref. 3).
John Chapman was convinced of the need to develop the capability to
design and build space hardware in Canadian industry and to move away
from the practice of relying solely on the expertise of the government
laboratories. As a result, Alouette II and the ISIS satellites were
built, with steadily increasing participation by Canadian industry.
In 1967, a report was produced by a committee chaired by John Chapman,
which recommended a redirection of Canada's effort in space from space
science and toward telecommunications and land survey. The culmination
of this was the launch in 1972 of Anik A1. With the successful placement
of this satellite on station, approximately 36,000 km above the equator,
Canada became the first country to have a domestic geostationary
communications satellite system. The Anik A series of satellites was
built by Hughes Aircraft Corporation of the United States.
The Alouette/ISIS Tracking Antenna
As a reminder of the Alouette/ISIS Program, an effort is being made to
preserve an 18-metre diameter tracking antenna at the Shirley Bay
Research Centre near Ottawa, Ontario. This antenna was used to receive
data from the Alouette I, ISIS I and ISIS II satellites. The site of the
antenna us occupied by three agencies of the Canadian Federal
Government: the Communications Research Centre, the Defense Research
Establishment Ottawa and the David Florida Laboratory of the Canadian
Space Agency. The three agencies have jointly undertaken a feasibility
study of the restoration and interpretation of the Alouete/ISIS tracking
antenna. The agencies propose to create an interpretation centre at the
entrance to the Shirley Bay Research Centre, along a major regional road
just west of Ottawa. This relocation of the antenna will increase the
antenna's visibility and permit public access to the display.
During the past year the IEEE Ottawa Section has submitted a nomination
to the IEEE Centre for the History of Electrical Engineering to have the
Alouette/ISIS Program designated as a Milestone of Electrical
Engineering. That designation is expected to be awarded soon.
The Alouette/ISIS Program had previously received recognition in Canada
as an engineering achievement. In 1987, the centennial year of
engineering in Canada, the Engineering Centennial Board selected
Alouette I as one of the ten greatest achievements in Canadian
Engineering in the past century.
Doris Jelly, Curator of the new "Canada in Space Exhibit", which has
recently opened at the National Museum of Science and Technology in
Ottawa writes that: "The success of the Alouette/ISIS Program led to the
growth of satellite technology in Canadian industry, and the further
development of satellite systems for communications, meteorology,
resource surveys and other related programs during the 1970's.
Communications satellites soon became the most important applications of
space technology. Their introduction resulted in a communications
revolution, the effect of which has been likened to the airplane on
transportation." (Ref. 4)
It is hoped that the Milestone designation and the preservation of the
Alouette/ISIS antenna will promote a wider knowledge about the
accomplishments of Canadian researchers and satellite hardware
manufacturers in the early years of the Space Age.
- J. Almond, C.A. Franklin and E.S. Warren, 1976, A Perspective on the
Canadian Satellite Program, Canadian Electrical Engineering Journal,
Volume 1, Number 1, Pages 47-60.
- C.A. Franklin, 1980, John Herbert Chapman 1921-1979, Proceedings of
the Royal Society of Canada, Series IV, Volume XXVIII, Pages 68-72.
- E.R. Schmerling and R.C. Langille, 1969, Guest Editors, Special
Issue on Topside Sounding and the Ionosphere, Proceedings of the IEEE,
Volume 57, Number 6.
- Doris Jelly, 1988, Canada - 25 Years in Space, Polyscience Publishers
A view of the Alouette satellite showing the four telemetry antennas and
two of the four STEM (Storable Tubular Extendible Member) sounding
antennas which were deployed on orbit. The satellite is about one metre
in diameter. (Crown copyright photo reproduced with permission from the
Canadian Department of Communications)
This photograph was taken in 1974 and shows the Alouette/ISIS tracking
antenna (on the right), a yagi array antenna of the earlier generation
and a dish antenna of later design (on the left). (Crown copyright photo
reproduced with permission from the Canadian Department of
About the Author
John Palimaka studied Engineering Science, Physics and Astronomy at the
University of Toronto, receiving a B.Sc. degree in 1976. He received an
M.Sc. degree in Physics (Radio Astronomy) from Queen's University at
Kingston in 1979. Now at Telesat Canada, he is a Program Manager in the
Flight Dynamics Systems Group. He is a Past-Chairman of the IEEE Ottawa