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Canada Enters Space

Canada was the third nation to place a spacecraft in Earth orbit and, with wise early planning, especially that of Dr John Chapman (1927-79), has maintained a significant role in the innovative use and development of space hardware. The resulting spacecraft and technologies have benefited not only Canadians but have also had a global impact in communications, in remote sensing applications, and through participation in the International Space Station (ISS).


Dr John Chapman with Alouette. (CSTM)

Alouette (730375*) was launched 29 September 1962 on an American Thor-Agena 3 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its function was to study the upper ionosphere at an altitude of approximately 1000 kilometres. This small satellite, designed by the Canadian Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment, employed new technologies like the STEM (storable tubular extendible member) antenna and made measurements of the composition and electrical properties of the ionosphere and its impact on communications. The STEM antenna was developed at the National Research Council by George Klein (1904-1992). Power for Alouette was provided by solar cells covering the exterior of the satellite as it spun throughout its orbital path. Four orientation sensors are visible protruding through the sides.

Data was collected and relayed by radio signals to ground receiving stations in Ottawa and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, as the craft passed overhead. These "ionograms" were stored on magnetic tapes for later retrieval and analysis. Designed to last one year, Alouette returned data for more than ten years and was still operating when finally turned off by its ground controllers. The Alouette in the exhibit was one of two built and tested for launch; this artifact could have been, and probably still could be, flown alongside its twin.

* The numbers in brackets are the accession numbers of artifacts held by the Museum.